Christopher Nolan Speaks Up on Sound Mix Issues in 'Interstellar'
Now that Interstellar has been in theaters for over a week, the film is getting talked about more openly. But before it even started screening for the public, there were more than a few complaints about the sound mix that was reportedly meticulously overseen by Christopher Nolan. This wouldn't be the first time Nolan had problems with sound as we all remember how difficult it was to understand Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises teaser scene that played before Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, but there have been various issues surrounding the presentation of sound in the film, and Nolan has just responded.
SlashFilm rounded up some of the more common complaints and sound issues some had at their screenings, and many of them were from the 35mm and 70mm showings, from sync issues to overpowering score and sound effects making dialogue hard to hear. However, Nolan reveals that all of this was done on purpose. Speaking with THR, Nolan explained:
“We made carefully considered creative decisions. There are particular moments in this film where I decided to use dialogue as a sound effect, so sometimes it’s mixed slightly underneath the other sound effects or in the other sound effects to emphasize how loud the surrounding noise is. It’s not that nobody has ever done these things before, but it's a little unconventional for a Hollywood movie.
The idea is to experience the journey the character is going on. [For instance] the experience of being in the cockpit is you hear the creaking [of the spacecraft]; it’s a very scary sound. We wanted to be true to the experience of space travel. We wanted to emphasize those intimate elements.”
That's fine, but what about (and if you haven't seen the movie, don't read any further for fear of spoilers), the scene where Jessica Chastain is bedside with Michael Caine as he's dying? There have been some complaints about Caine's final words, which are pretty important, being hard to hear. Nolan has an explanation for that too, which lines up with his previous sound decisions:
“The creative intent there is to be truthful to the situation…an elderly man dying and saying something somewhat unexpected. We are following the emotional state of Jessica’s character as she starts to understand what he’s been saying. Information is communicated in various different ways over the next few scenes. That’s the way I like to work; I don't like to hang everything on one particular line. I like to follow the experience of the character.”
That's fine if the decision was made consciously, but it can also be frustrating for audiences, especially since Caine's character delivers a pretty pivotal, game-changing piece of dialogue as he dies. And for a film where dialogue is important, especially with all the exposition throughout, hearing every single word probably feels important to everyone in the theater.
Personally, my experience in theaters was a little different, but still contained sound issues. I've seen the film twice on a digital IMAX screen (the real big one), and there were two separate moments where the sound mix was an issue, though it could just be a problem at the theater. There's an underlying bass line that surges throughout the opening of the film, and it was so loud and overpowering that it made dialogue hard to hear from Matthew McConaughey. The same thing happened during the scene when McConaughey is having the emotional conversation with his daughter as he prepares to leave for the mission.
Neither of these issues fall under Nolan's blanket of creating a realistic sound mix, but again, this might be something caused by a mistake at the theater. I'm hoping to catch the film at least one more time, maybe in a different format, to see if any of these issues carry over or if new ones are made apparent. Either way, there seems to be a disconnect between the way Nolan wants audiences to experience the film (he checked out several different theaters in LA and NY to see how it plays), and the threshold for which audiences can handle not being able to hear parts of the movie. Did you have problems with the sound mix?