Are soundtracks becomming less impressive?

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Bryant Trew, Jan 3, 2005.

  1. Bryant Trew

    Bryant Trew Second Unit

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    Just an open question. I've listened to a lot of the recent blockbuster films, and most of them haven't been the knockouts I'd expect them to be in the sound department. At first I thought it was purely a volume problem. There is a bit of truth to this in that I brought out my SPL meter and have found most discs to be quieter on average and in the peaks. But then there is the engineering side, where the newer discs just don't seem to be using the full capabilities of surround sound to immerse you. Just compare the recent "major" films to soundtracks like Blade II and Gladiator. They really can't hold a candle to these two. Even some of the older Bond films use the rear channels more impressively than the newer films IMO.

    Anyone else get this impression as well?
     
  2. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    I don't get that impression at all. The 5.1 track on the Terminator 3 dvd uses the surround field to outstanding effect, and the low end is nothing to sneeze at either.

    Another really good track can be heard on the Dawn of the Dead (2004) Director's Cut dvd, great surrounds and one of the hardest hitting LFE tracks i've heard in awhile. When that truck backs up and hits the side of the mall, BAMMM!!, the whole freaking room trembles! [​IMG]

    Yet another, I got the I, Robot dvd for x-mas and it has a great surround field, very immersive at times, particularly when Will Smith is outside in the city and during the tunnel attack sequence with the robots jumping on his car.

    And last but certaintly not least, nobody can tell me that the DTS-ES track on LOTR: The Return of the King EE DVD isn't one of the finest aural experiences ever produced for a dvd. It excels in every area.

    I also have to say, Bryant, your signature had me laughing my ass off! [​IMG]
     
  3. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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    Making comparisons of the soundtracks of different films does nothing to answer your question. It's apples and oranges.

    Soundtracks in different films are mixed differently, presumably and hopefully in such a way that music, dialogue and sound effects will best fit the on-screen action and support the atmosphere. Sometimes this may call for a low-key approach and at other times higher volume levels. I don't see the point in measuring peak volume levels with a SPL meter. Are you suggesting the volume level alone is what makes film soundtracks and mixes impressive?

    Some thoughts on movie soundtracks and volume.
     
  4. DonRoeber

    DonRoeber Screenwriter

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    For some amazing sound work, go see The House of Flying Daggers. The sound mix in the theater had my jaw on the floor. The visuals were fantastic too. And hey, the story wasn't bad either [​IMG]

    Looking forward to it's DVD release to see how it holds up at home. I think one of the scenes has potential to be a demo scene.
     
  5. Sean Laughter

    Sean Laughter Screenwriter

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    Anyone that didn't sit in awe of the aural and visual impact of the Rohirrom (sp?) charge on the army outside Minas Tirith in ROTK has no soul. [​IMG]
     
  6. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    Sean,
    do you know how silly that sounds!? "No soul".











    They just have no ears, that's all. [​IMG]
     
  7. Mike Wadkins

    Mike Wadkins Supporting Actor

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    try the black hawk down superbit
    or hero in dts
     
  8. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Unless your receiver is forced to amplify to the point of distortion, how could it be a "volume problem"? Due to peak-limiting and the resultant dynamic compression, I have found some of the loudest soundtracks I own are among the least impressive (LotR:FotR Theatrical DD5.1 [The Extended Edition is a big improvement], Die Another Day DTS, etc.)

    Regards,
     
  9. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    The mix is a big part of it. There have been some baaaaad films with great sound mixes:

    "Catwoman", anyone? "The Day After Tomorrow"? "Van Helsing"? "The Chronicles of Riddick"? I didn't think so. [​IMG] Some of the best sound people in Hollywood worked on these films last year, though.

    Regards,
     
  10. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

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    Volume levels aside I do think that the use of the rear surrounds is an area that hasn't really been as effective as it should be.

    Sure, we can all think of titles like LOTR:ROTK EE which is an amazing experience .... but we also can think of other films (where one would expect surrounds to be heavily engaged) that don't seem as immersive as they should even downright disappointing.

    Consider Goldeneye (1995) compared to Die Another Day (2002). We pick up a DTS track and what else ... besides a much more front directed audio (in action scenes) than in Goldeneye? Surrounds don't have to just be for action scenes as well ... why can't the score be sent to the rears more than many DVD currently do?

    So while my example is admittedly anecdotal I do believe that we are just treading water with audio (in many cases) underperforming what a DVD can and should deliver.
     
  11. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    Rich,
    it all has to do with what the sound designers of the movie mixed into the rears in the first place.

    IMO, dvd is doing a very good job of faithfully delivering what I heard in the theater. Take the remake of Dawn of the Dead for example, when the truck hits the mall in the theater, it was startlingly strong! I figured it would sound good on dvd but not nearly the same as that, I was wrong. When I got the dvd, it was precisly what I heard at the theater.

    This thread is sort of redundant, I mean not every film is mixed the same, or at the same level and films of today sound every bit as enveloping as films of ten years ago. Their is nothing to grasp onto here or pin down, it's all too subjective.
     
  12. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Damn straight. Another title I'd add to this list is the 3-disc "Brotherhood of the Wolf", which has a much-praised-in-some-quarters DTS track that I find to be brittle and harsh, most likely due to eq choices, with that peak-limited/compressed sound.

    This sorta touches on a question I've always had, but never bothered pursuing... do people assume some "reference volume level" that's standard across all discs? As I suspect we all know, there is no such standard. Likewise, for CDs. These days, I find the discs that are "quieter" tend to be ones with the better audio mastering, but only because the "louder" ones exceed the peak dynamic ranges of DVD (or CD) and are peak-limited/compressed to compensate.

    If you don't get what I'm saying, think back to the days of cassette tape recorders -- the "over-maximization" of volume on DVDs and CDs is the equivalent of recording a tape with the levels pushed all the way over into the red. Constantly. If you ever accidentally recorded a tape with levels into the red, you may recall the squashed dynamic range and the distortion that was introduced.
     
  13. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Screenwriter

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    :: ... why can't the score be sent to the rears more than many DVD currently do?

    Because filmmakers base their movies sound mixes on their personal artistic intents and tastes, not on home theater enthusiasts' desire to have sound coming out of all of their speakers at all times.

    Vincent
     
  14. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

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    Vincent,

    I object to my term of "more" being quoted for your thoughts on what HT enthusiasts want or don't want let alone used for things such as your "all of their speakers at all times" diatribe.

    If you know of "filmmakers" that have stated their preference for score music to come from the front speakers and not to come from rear speakers (in either their film or DVD releases), please share the source for your information. I'd love to know who these filmmakers are.

    If not, speak for yourself rather than what you perceive filmmakers "personal" intent may nor not be.
     
  15. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    I do think that they are mixed better today than years ago. There were/are several DVD's out there where you can't hear the dialogue coming through the center because the fronts are too loud (or the center was too low) - whatever. I haven't seen that in a few years now.

    As a result, the transitions between talking/balsts/etc has become smoother.

    ...and I do agree that the sides and rears are sorely underused. Sure, they come up on intense scenes, but it doesn't take that much more to get the sides and rears going through most of the new movies that are out today.

    Glenn
     
  16. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Films are mixed no better today than they were in 40 -50 years ago.

    We have different technologies and additional channels to work with, but anyone who questions the a mix based upon a DB meter or sheer volume need only return to Hitchcock's Rear Window...

    a simle, yet elegant monaural mix, which has more depth than many later stereo mixes.

    Every film has its own individual sound design, and one should not be compared to the next.

    Quality should be the overriding factor.

    RAH
     
  17. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Screenwriter

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    Rich,

    The FACT is that DIRECTORS supervise the mixes of the films you see in theaters and on DVD. If there isn't enough music in the surrounds for your tastes, then it's because the filmmakers chose not to have music sent to the surrounds as much as you would personally like, PERIOD. It's that simple, I don't need to specifically quote filmmakers themselves on the subject. Since they supervised these mixes, then the way the mixes sound- and where the sound is distributed among the speakers- is how they wanted the films to be.

    Also, I don't see how you could characterize my very short response as a "diatribe". Lighten up.

    Vincent

     
  18. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

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    Vincent,

    First, caps in this (and other) forums are considered rude. Shouting only raises the DB level, without providing quality to the film discussion. [​IMG]

    The fact that directors don't supervise the mixes of films you see in theatres, the fact that directors move off a film project before it is even completed, the fact that directors are dead so they may have little substantial input on the film's DVD release ....

    are as pointless as your "facts."

    Neither one of us knows what percent of directors take an active role in working with the sound supervisor and/or sound editors on their films or the resultant DVD or their ability to do so. So if your "facts" are without foundation where does that leave your conclusion?

    Moving on,

    I went to see Tati's Playtime (1967) in 70 mm at the Walter Reade Theatre in NYC. Terrific. Tati recorded audio on six tracks (magnetic tape). The restored version presented 5 tracks as R/RC/C/LC/L. Playtime derives much of its humor from deliberately "off" Folley effects and other audio gags. Much comedic benefit comes from sounds and voices that come from your left or right such as in the long restaurant scene. Btw, Walter Reade did a terrific job of presenting Playtime. The spaciousness of the theatre itself as well as the audio presentation made for a truly immersive experience. If someone were to ask me why I continue to go the theatre, it is experiences like this one. [​IMG]

    Criterion is working on a new DVD of Playtime. It will be interesting to see how they chose to present the audio. I would think that some scenes would benefit from rears such as the hilarious woman on the intercom at the airport. Other scenes (such as conversations at the restaurant) would benefit from audio coming left or right (versus rears). Towards the end, a truck rumbles by which rumbled the seats of the theatre. There was no sub-woofer in the audio mix of the film - it will be interesting to see whether Criterion chooses to add a .1 to their mix or not. Overall, I don't think that the audio choices will be easy.

    I doubt that anyone that sees Playtime in 70 mm 5.0 would ever suggest that the film doesn't benefit/require surrounds. Note: Criterion's old DVD release of Playtime was mono. A "fact" that might have Monsieur Tati rolling in his grave.
     
  19. Jeff Gatie

    Jeff Gatie Lead Actor

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    Actually, there is a standard "reference" level for Dolby Digital DVD's. It is basically 105dB peaks from the mains, center and surrounds and 115dB peaks from the LFE. This is the famed "reference level" that everyone here speaks about (it is VERY LOUD!). Now whether a sound engineer mixes a DVD hot or cold with regards to RL is another thing, but the standard reference level does exist for DVD (as opposed to CD's). See Dolby's site for more info.
     
  20. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    There are actual standards for theatrical mixing that, if followed, usually result in reasonable dynamic range and headroom. If only such standards existed for music releases...

    Regards,
     

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