During yesterday’s drive into Savannah from the airport I told a senior Los Angeles-based exhibition executive (i.e., a guy who doesn’t want to be quoted) about the over-cranked, super-bassy sound inside the TCL Chinese that made dialogue hard to understand at times during Thursday night’s Interstellar screening. He said he knows all about that. He said that union guys who were calibrating the sound at a West L.A. theatre plex constructed two or three years ago wanted to heighten the bassy “thromp” levels, and that he and his associates told them “nope, nope…no way.” He knows exactly what bass-thromp does to dialogue. And he made the right call. The plex in question delivers excellent sound. Hearing dialogue is never an issue when I see a film there. I can always hear every last vowel and consonant.
Interior of refurbished TCL Chinese. The muddled, super-bassy, over-cranked sound delivery in this theatre has probably harmed…okay, influenced the critical opinion of Interstellar among L.A. journos who attended Thursday night’s screening. I have already pledged to see Chris Nolan’s film again in a theatre with better calibrated sound.
I’ve also heard from a journalist friend who saw Interstellar Wednesday night at the California Science Center IMAX theatre, and he says the sound there “was exquisite…you could hear absolutely everything perfectly.” He also dropped by Thursday night’s TCL Chinese showing, or actually “bits and pieces of the last 25 minutes of the film and the sound was way overpumped. In fact standing in the lobby we thought the theatre was going to collapse, and I heard complaints from a couple of SAG voters that they couldn’t understand the dialogue, which always used to be the case at the Chinese pre-IMAX.”
I’m waiting to speak soon to Chapin Cutler, the projection and sound guru from Boston Light & Sound who handles projection standards at the Telluride Film Festival, the TCM Classic Film Festival and is now preparing projection for the upcoming AFI Fest. I’m not going to assume anything but Cutler knows his realm cold, and I can guess what he’ll tell me about bass-thromp.
I’m certainly going to ask Cutler about “standing waves,” which HE commenter Anna Zed defined yesterday as follows: “Standing waves are sound waves of a certain frequency [that] create acoustical anomalies like level boost at some frequencies, varied resonance and drop-outs. Standing waves are very common in theaters and opera halls and are generally found on the periphera. No sound mix can account for them, but current popular movie sound stylings and ungated digital mixes with their heavy reliance on low-end information can make them much more noticeable; particularly when the ear has to differentiate between worlds colliding and such like and the mid-rangy nuances of a human speaking voice.”
After I speak to Cutler and post his comments, every HE commenting bitch who suggested that my complaints about being unable to hear all of the Interstellar dialogue was due to diminished hearing (I’m speaking particularly of Muscle McGurk and Correcting Jeff) are going to have to grovel and apologize. If they don’t do this they’re going to be 86’ed. Real men admit when they’ve been proved wrong. “It’s called a hearing aid,” McGurk wrote. “Get one.” It’s called an apology, bitch. Serve one up or suffer the consequences.