The Lego Ninjago Movie in Dolby Vision and Atmos Sound

lego ninjago movie

I really enjoyed The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, so I was eager to see the latest installment in the franchise—The Lego Ninjago Movie. Like the second outing, this one was graded in Dolby Vision HDR and mixed in Dolby Atmos for presentation in Dolby Cinemas, so of course, that’s where I saw it.

All three Lego movies look like they were produced with stop-motion animation using Lego blocks and characters, though they could have been done with CGI (computer-generated imagery) instead. The Lego Ninjago Movie starts in the real world, as a boy (Kaan Guldur) wanders into an Asian antique shop. The proprietor, Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan), tells him the story of Ninjago, an island city depicted in the Lego universe.

There, the evil warlord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux) tries repeatedly to conquer the city. He is thwarted every time by the Secret Ninja Warriors—Lloyd (Dave Franco), Cole (Fred Armisen), Kai (Michael Pena), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Zane (Zach Woods), and Nya (Abbi Jacobson). No one knows their real identities as local high-school students. Their leader is Master Wu (Jackie Chan), who teaches them the ninja arts.

As Mr. Liu’s story begins, we learn that Lloyd is the son of Garmadon, who abandoned him and his mother Koko (Olivia Munn) shortly after he was born, and he is reviled by everyone because of his father. Little do they know that Lloyd—as Green Ninja—has been helping to repel Garmadon’s attacks all along.

Like most stories, this one includes lots of conflict, seemingly insurmountable odds, and the classic Hero’s Journey. The dialog is full of modern vernacular with many hilarious moments. It’s clearly a tongue-in-cheek homage to cheesy Japanese monster movies, complete with a huge live-action cat—called Meowthra—destroying the city.

The Dolby Vision presentation is excellent, with super-deep blacks and rich, eye-popping colors. One great example of the black level is the scene in which the ninjas enter the Temple of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon. It’s a very dark shot, and half the screen is completely black; I couldn’t see the boundaries of the screen until someone turned on the lights in the temple. On the high side of the luminance range, there are a couple of shots with the sun in full view, and it was very bright without being blown out or obscuring details in other parts of the image. That’s some good HDR!

There was one odd thing about the visuals. During the live-action intro and coda, the image was full of obvious film grain or noise. I didn’t see it in the animated scenes. The technical specs are not yet posted on IMDb, so I don’t know how the live-action scenes were shot. That noise must have been intentional, but it seemed very strange to me.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack takes great advantage of the hemispherical soundfield. During the battles between the ninjas and Garmadon’s forces, things are flying all around, and the audience is right in the middle of the action. And the music—a great score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh—is often mixed well into the room. However, I have one complaint about the soundtrack: The dialog intelligibility was poor when there was lots of other stuff going on. The sound effects and dialog were jumbled together when they should have been more distinct. This is clearly a problem with the mix.

I regret to report that the sound levels were too high: Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the movie plus trailers) = 97.5 dBZ (flat), 92.2 dBA, 96.6 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 117.6 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 101.3 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 91.2 dBZ. The average level was more than 7 dBA over reference.

Despite the noise in the live-action scenes, dialog-intelligibility problem, and too-high levels, I thoroughly enjoyed The Lego Ninjago Movie. It’s full of humor and heart along with a distinctive irreverence and youthful energy that I find very appealing. I didn’t get a chance to duck into a conventional screening to compare the Dolby Vision version with standard dynamic range, but the HDR is beautiful, and the Atmos soundtrack is fully engaged.

If you live near a Dolby Cinema—for a list of locations, click here—I recommend seeing it there. However, you’ll probably need to go in the morning or early afternoon. At my local Dolby Cinema—and several others I checked—Kingsman: The Golden Circle is playing in the late afternoon and evening. Obviously, AMC considers The Lego Ninjago Movie to be a kid flick. Granted, it will certainly appeal to children and young adults, but it’s also good fun for the more mature among us who remain young at heart.

Check out the trailer: