Wonder Woman in Dolby Vision HDR and Atmos Sound

wonder woman

It should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a nanosecond that comic books are dominated by male superheroes. This was apparent to Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston, who created the character of Wonder Woman in 1941 to combat what he called the “bloodcurdling masculinity” of comic books at the time. Since then, the character has enjoyed ongoing popularity, especially in the mid-1970s when Lynda Carter played the Amazon warrior princess in the eponymous TV series.

Now, Wonder Woman comes to the big screen. As told early in the movie, the origin story totally mangles Greek mythology. Zeus, the king of the gods, creates mankind, and his son Ares, the god of war, imbues humans with aggressive qualities. The rest of the gods think that’s not such a good idea, so Ares kills them all and gravely wounds Zeus before Ares is defeated (but not completely destroyed). With the last of his strength, Zeus creates the island of Themyscira, places a tribe of warrior women called Amazons there, and isolates the island from the rest of the world with a magic barrier. The Amazons train to defeat Ares if and when he re-emerges to wreak havoc on the world of men.

From this point, the story is familiar to most geeks and nerds (among whom I proudly count myself!). Diana (Gal Gadot) is the daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen), queen of the Amazons. Diana longs to train with the other Amazons, but her mother forbids it, saying she has a different destiny—and a secret identity that she is unaware of. So the tribe’s best warrior, Antiope (Robin Wright), trains her in secret, and she grows up to be a powerful Amazon.

One day, Diana sees an airplane crash into the ocean near the island, and she rescues the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). He’s a spy for the Allies during World War I, escaping the Germans in one of their own planes, and he happens to inadvertently breach the barrier surrounding the island. The Amazons learn of the “war to end all wars,” which Diana interprets to mean an endless war, and she concludes that Ares is behind it all.

Diana decides to leave the island with Steve, find Ares, and destroy him once and for all with a special god-killing sword. The other famous tools of her trade include the glowing Golden Lasso of Truth, which forces anyone it entwines to tell the truth, and bullet-deflecting bracelets and shield.

Once Steve and Diana get to London, they enlist the help of some compatriots, including Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie the crazy Scottish sniper (Ewen Bremner), and a native American called The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). Other important characters include German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his evil chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), who develops poison gases as weapons of mass destruction. Finally, there’s Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), a member of the British government who advocates for “peace at any cost” but secretly helps our heroes infiltrate German strongholds.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. I generally prefer the Marvel franchise over DC because it has more humor and doesn’t take itself as seriously. Wonder Woman has much more humor than the other DC-based movies I’ve seen, though it sometimes seems a bit forced. The movie also includes some thoughtful explorations of the good and evil that live within each of us, and how we can’t necessarily save everyone from the evil that people perpetrate on each other. As Ares says, he didn’t cause the war, he only encouraged the evil that was already there.

Also, I appreciate that Wonder Woman and the other Amazons are not over-sexualized as most female comic-book characters are. (Yes, Diana wears a bathing suit-like outfit as the character always has, but it’s more armored and less salacious than usual.) She’s a powerful, independent woman who doesn’t depend on men to rescue her; in fact, she rescues them, and they cheer her for it. Granted, she is very naïve in the ways of the world, and there are a few sexual innuendos, but they are handled very well without becoming prurient.

At 141 minutes, the movie is too long, mostly because of the many fight sequences, which are way too long. In addition, the pacing and editing are somewhat strange, especially in the third act.

I saw Wonder Woman at the Dolby Cinema at AMC Century City 15. It was my first time in that theater, which is smaller than the one at AMC Burbank 16, where I normally go. As a result, the red Exit signs were farther into my field of view and thus more distracting. Also, the powered reclining seats are smaller, so I felt pretty packed in.

I was less impressed than usual with the HDR imagery. Not that it was bad; it just wasn’t as spectacular as I normally see. For instance, in low-light scenes, I saw a bit less shadow detail, and the black level didn’t seem quite as low as the best examples. And in the opening shot—a zoom toward Earth from space—the black of space was definitely a dark gray like what you would see in a conventional commercial cinema. That must have been a creative decision, but it was the wrong one in my view. On the other hand, the bright scenes look fantastic, and there are many moments in which the high brightness of Dolby Vision is used to good effect.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is wonderful. Immersive audio lends itself very well to scenes of fighting and war, and there is plenty of opportunity to place the sounds of bullets and bombs all around the room, not to mention the climactic battle between Wonder Woman and Ares. In addition, the music is effectively mixed well into the surround and overhead speakers.

Unfortunately, the levels were very high: Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the movie plus trailers) = 99.2 dBZ (flat), 89.6 dBA, 98.4 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 120.4 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 102.2 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 87.4 dBZ. The overall average was almost 5 dB above reference level!

Aside from being too long, Wonder Woman is a fun popcorn movie that is well worth seeing. I didn’t get a chance to sneak into a conventional theater to compare with the Dolby Vision version, but I’m sure the HDR version is better—just not quite as much better as with other Dolby Vision titles I’ve seen. If you are near a Dolby Cinema location (for a list, click here), I still recommend spending a few extra bucks to see it there. And be sure to take any children you can—both girls and boys—to see how a woman can be a great superhero without conforming to the sexual stereotypes that are otherwise so pervasive in our culture.