Originally Posted by caesar1
Our brains have the power to lessen or almost tune out non-essential information.
Which is why we can be in a comedy club with people talking, sneezing, waitresses, glasses clinking -- yet still follow the comedian and the joke.
So there can be a pretty detailed and rich ambient environment in any film -- they dont' need to dumb it down. As long as its natural sounding it should be fine.
Which is exactly why ambient information is distracting when you try and play it up too much... the brain starts to filter out redundant information after about five seconds, and it is why overplayed ambient sounds are too distracting.
Trust me, we aren't dumbing it down. But you cannot simply make the argument that in reality our brains do just fine with all of the extraneous noise, and we should then try and imitate that.
There are many problems with that. I start with the premise that film, of course, isn't reality, and all of the rules of psycho acoustics in real life don't apply.
First off, films have a forced proscenium, and a 2D one at that, whereas in life we have peripheral vision and 3 dimensions. When you break out side of the screen, the brain does stop to process the sound in context of what you are seeing, and it becomes very distracting to the story being told on screen. Add to that the jarring concept of picture editing, where every cut involves the brain putting topography together, and ambient sound becomes the glue that helps tie it all together (listen to the center channel only in any heavy dialog scene, and you can usually pull out the bumps and changes inherent in the production track.) The one exception to this of course is when you don't cut picture, i.e. a film like "Cloverfield." There are of course time cuts, but outside of that, single takes rule the day. And in those cases it is way more successful to go all out, because all of the sound supports what you can and can't see, and the use of off camera sounds make sense because the rules are different.
This is why your analogy of a comedy club doesn't work... sitting in one place without moving, your brain is able to focus on what you want it too... you are the active participant who chooses what you
decide to focus on; watching a film makes you into a passive viewer, and the director is in charge of focusing your attention in the way they feel is true to the story they are telling.
Saying that directors don't use the surrounds enough is like criticizing Shakespeare for not using enough adjectives... story telling is sometimes most effective when only using a couple of simple words to tell the story. Directors have many tools at their use, and surround immersion is only one of them. And I do disagree that we are always up front in comedies or dramas.
I find that because of the reasons I just stated, that using width instead of depth is much more effective when constrained to looking forward at a screen all the time.
Try and take any film that you think is flat (I haven't seen "Michael Clayton") but can speak only of my work. Turn off or unplug your center speaker and see just how much stuff is in there.. you might think it not enough for your liking, but I think that you be surpassed at how much there is. It is very shocking to many just how much energy the dialog takes up in a scene and how much other sound there is being lost behind it... remember that human hearing is most sensitive in the range of human speech, between 1kHz and 3kHz (the fundamentals are lower, but that is when a lot of speech is defined). And many modern films are shot on location so you are tied to a lot of natural ambience in the center track, which limits how loud you can play other sounds.
I think you are being overly critical of just how much stuff you think isn't in a film soundtrack.
Also understand that in trying to equate what reality sounds like and then trying to imitate that in a film, we are so primitive in our playback that when using two or four surround channels, we are still very inadequate in trying to fool our binaural hearing... most people think that you need at least 8-10 discrete channels in a rear array to start to mimic what we hear in the real world, outside of an acoustically, frequency limited room. A couple of years ago, my mixing stage was the home of a new sound system that consisted of 384 discrete speaker channels (it used 6 sub channels, so it was in essence a 384.6 system !!!) It was really cool... and created limitless sweet spots and the ability to move sounds outside of the room..
If you want to read more, here is the web site:http://www.iosono-sound.com/index.html
That is my old mixing room on the page, but none of those people are me, so don't ask
But with the tools we have available to use today, surrounds still, even at their best, are a cheap imitation of reality, and require a lot of brain power when using them for ambient sounds... and once again, I use them a lot in my mixing, as do most directors, but remember that we are trying to tell a story, and even though I know you disagree, I hope I have given you some of the reasons why we don't use it to the extent you think we should...
Trust me, I am a relative youngster as a mixer mixing the kind of films I have.... I work with a lot of first time feature directors (not all young and inexperienced) and a lot of people who have been doing this for years... most of them aren't afraid to use sound, they just don't like it when you break the illusion. And using a fixed, bandwidth limited array of surround speakers can do that quicker than anything else
I don't talk a lot about the projects that I have mixed, but I have a film coming out on Tuesday that is one of the most interesting things I have done, and I am hoping that people who love film have a chance to see and hear it..
It is called "Slipstream" and is only coming out on SD DVD... if you have a chance, take a listen and let me know what you think.. It is very arty, very self indulgent, very weird, but one of the projects I am most proud of....
EDIT: The "Slipstream" I am speaking about is directed by and stars Anthony Hopkins, not the SciFi film of a couple of years back.