Even Fellow Directors Complain to Nolan About his Sound

'Interstellar'Credit: Paramount
Ever wonder about why you can't hear some things in a Nolan movie? You're not the only one. 

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!     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


Wasn't your ford focus speakers. Saw it twice, each in separate theaters. First time watching it , i was like Huh? damn i missed that part.... second time watching it, was able to catch everything but also realized that it was intentional for the sake of creating a "realistic intensity"......(in reality, if loud shit/intense moments are happening, you WILL miss things, words, moment, etc) and Missing things really makes you feel like you're on a ride you can't control. What was being said (the audio) wasn't exactly necessary for the plot or movie, but not hearing it gave a sense of "missing details you needed" and ....."since you can't be in the know" ;) it lends itself to the plot line and connecting you with the protagonists goal of accomplishment while not being fully aware of what's going on themselves..... in short it all ties together with the intentional overwhelming nature of the film..... btw, if anyone feels this comes across as a spoiler, which i dont' think it is, please delete comment asap.

November 13, 2020 at 2:48PM, Edited November 13, 2:50PM


I freaking loved Interstellar

November 13, 2020 at 5:29PM

asa martinez
Camera Movement Tech, Camera Operator

Tenet was a disgrace. I couldn't hear half the movie. And this is the last movie you'll ever want to watch without hearing 50% of the dialogue. Crap.

November 14, 2020 at 2:56AM


The parts of this post that were cut-and-pasted are ok, but Hellerman's added filler (the stuff supposed to make us believe the article isn't just a repost from a few other blogs) are just irrelevant and idiotic.

"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".

What the fuck does that even mean ? Dolby is now included in every receiver (even soundbars) and it's far from expensive. And how would it make it clearer than in cinemas ? You know, cinemas that are using Dolby encoded soundtracks ?

I think V Renée now has some serious competition in the inept writer race !

November 14, 2020 at 10:15AM


This dude right here spitin' them straight facts.

November 14, 2020 at 2:51PM, Edited November 14, 2:51PM

Leo E.

Christopher Nolan's sound mixing is his 48fps.

November 15, 2020 at 12:46PM

Noah Leon
Filmmaker @ Moosefuel Media

This problem exists with too many "modern" movies. Directors and mixers have no idea a good portion of the time how to handle dialog among explosions, lasers, rockets, gun blasts, blaring music, etc. etc. etc. And pretentious Nolan brings less than nothing to this miserable party. Yeah, I'm up in years but I have no problem with older movies, tv shows, etc. As for the notion that things can't be made more clear for the home viewer, it's my understanding (correct me if wrong, please) that mixes are done specifically different for home use exactly because you aren't in a theatre. Sure, that's somewhat a hit and miss proposition given the huge variety in home systems but at least there's an attempt. (P.S. If Nolan wants a half silent movie he might as well go all the way back to silent movies.) As for me, I'll stick to the treasure trove of dialog audible oldies.

November 19, 2020 at 11:05AM


Nolan: "it’s pretty remarkable.” It may be remarkable, but if I have no freakin' idea what your characters are saying, I don't know what the movie is about. I went from absolutely loving his work, to pretty much not being interested in watching his stuff anymore. Supremely annoying, is how I'd describe it.

November 19, 2020 at 12:08PM

mp writer-director

I see it as sloppy film making , just another example of today's poorly crafted films. so many are grossly underlit with terrible sound and lazy color grading making everything teal and and orange, it's so common in today's films.

November 22, 2020 at 4:03PM