Christopher Nolan has been taking some heat over his sound design for a while. I feel like the conversation around it really picked up with the release of Interstellar, which had whole snippets of conversations that were drowned out by the music and roar of engines.
Nolan has defended these choices in interviews before, but now, he has also done it in print.
Tom Shone’s new book The Nolan Variations reveals a side of Nolan we never expected. He's actually surprised about moviegoers and their conservative views about sound.
“We got a lot of complaints,” Nolan said about Interstellar's sound design. “I actually got calls from other filmmakers who would say, ‘I just saw your film, and the dialogue is inaudible.’ Some people thought maybe the music’s too loud, but the truth was it was kind of the whole enchilada of how we had chosen to mix it.”
I wonder who called him?
I am all for honest critiques but I can't imagine letting him know those details. Maybe they just thought it was being projected wrong.
Still, Nolan acknowledges he uses sound outside of the norm.
“It was a very, very radical mix,” the director said. “I was a little shocked to realize how conservative people are when it comes to sound. Because you can make a film that looks like anything, you can shoot on your iPhone, no one’s going to complain. But if you mix the sound a certain way, or if you use certain sub-frequencies, people get up in arms.”
Nolan added “there’s a wonderful feeling of scale” that can come by experimenting with sound design and “a wonderful feeling of physicality to sound that on Interstellar we pushed further than I think anyone ever has.”
“A lot of it was the music where Hans [Zimmer] had this organ and he used the absolutely lowest note, which would literally make your chest drop,” Nolan said. “There’s certain low-end frequencies that automatically get filtered out by the software. He took all of those controls off, so there are all those sub-frequencies there. And we did the same on the dub stage. It’s a pretty fascinating sound mix. If you see it particularly in an IMAX theater, projected, it’s pretty remarkable.”
I think this continues Nolan's tradition of wanting people out in the theaters to experience his work. I think the main problem arises that when you want to revisit it at home, there's nothing you can do to make things more clear... unless you can afford Dolby Digital Surround Sound.
I saw Tenet at the drive-in, and I admit I think I lost a ton of the movie because some stuff over my Ford Focus speakers was lost on me.
Let us know what you think of Nolan's sound in the comments!