HELLO, DOLLY! and the fate of 6-channel musicals on disc

Chuck Pennington

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Hey fellow musical fans (there must be SOME out there, right?),

Has anyone wondered just what the fate of musicals are going to be on either Blu-Ray or HD-DVD? I was happy to see many of them on DVD have been presented in more accurate sound configurations (DD 4.0, for example) than previous video releases, but they are often so heavily compressed, de-noised, and filtered that al the life of the music and performance is drained. Not to mention the many musicals that have been remixed and ruined (GREASE, anyone?)

My tests using PCM Stereo and even re-encoding DD 5.1 from AC-3 laserdiscs (I am working on HELLO, DOLLY! now and the process takes time but is well worth it considering my test of the title number still sounds LEAGUES above the sound on the released DVD) have yielded some incredible results, though the editing and conforming of tracks to match the sync on the released DVDs takes some knowhow and time.

I hope these films get their definitive presentations on the hi-def disc formats, but what form will that be? Will all of the overtures, intermissions, entr'actes, and exit music cues be restored - or somehow available via seamless branching? Will we get uncompressed 5.1 PCM sound of the original mixes or altered remixes? Will the original 6-track soundtracks be altered to match the 5.1 setup that has become standard (I don't think 6.1 or 7.1 is really an option considering how these films were mixed and what elements may still exist for them)?

I find all this remixing troubling because many of these films won Oscars for their sound originally, so remixing and altering them changes completely what may have been just perfect (+ hiss though) the first time around.

What are everyone else's thoughts?
 

Stephen_J_H

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I don't think that truly accurate presentations of some 6-track films will be possible until someone finds a way to get around the size differential between theatrical presentation and home presentation. I mean, some of these older 6-track films were mixed L, LC, C, RC, R, S, and the only current sound format that can replicate that is SDDS 8 Channel.

As well, remember that soundtrack remixing and preservation is still very much in its infancy. Remember all those horrible CD remasters that came out in the first wave of releases? The preservation technology has improved and digital mastering is getting better and better all the time. I would not be surprised to see more faithful remasters in the coming years, and I hear that the uncompressed PCM on Blu-Ray is nothing short of amazing.

In short, there will be some abominations yet to come, but eventually we'll get what we want.
 

Chuck Pennington

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Actually, weren't all 6-track musicals up until perhaps the 80's been L, LC, C, RC, R, and a mono surround? Perhaps EVITA was the first with split surrounds in Dolby Digital 5.1. The only other musicals that might have been more modern in their mix that I can think of would maybe have been NEWSIES (1992), LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986), A CHORUS LINE (1985), or ANNIE (1982).

Still, the 6-channel originals could make solid 4.0 tracks if they weren't so royally fudged up for DVD. Examples: HELLO DOLLY, GREASE, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. SWEET CHARITY was done well, but it still lacked the power of even the 2-channel matrixed VHS release - I'm guessing due to the noise reduction/filtering process and how Dolby Digital compresses the sound.
 

Stephen PI

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I now have 5 speakers in front hoping that a studio like Warner will one day issue titles like "Ben-Hur" and "Mutiny on the Bounty" with their original discrete 6-track mixes aswell as a 5.1 mixdown.
This is a long way off as very few people have their systems configured this way.
 

Lord Dalek

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Well the 5.0 format seems to work fine to me. I suppose you could get a more "accurate" sound by doing it in Dolby Plus/DTS-ES Discrete and designating rear L/R as Front L/R with the back channels as your mono surround.
 

DaViD Boulet

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Hey Chuck,

now that I've had some experience listening to lots of soundtracks in various forms for a while... I think it boils down to one thing:

Today's mixing/mastering engineers have forgotten the "less is more" approach to hi-fi audio.

There's a pervasive mentality in the industry right now that the more dials you turn... the better.

The actual "mix" of the AC3 on the Laser of Hello Dolly is *identical* to the mix on the new DVD. The big difference is one thing: Noise reduction on the DVD has stripped the music of all of its life. What's really bizarre is that the noise/hiss of the original AC3 mix was so mild I don't think anyone would have noticed. But the new mix has no highs in an effort to get rid of it.

Little Mermaid and Marry Poppins suffered the same fate. I hear the same "dead" sound on the new copy of Fox and the Hound I just picked up.

The guys (kids?) mastering these soundtracks clearly don't know what music is supposed to sound like. They think if they get rid of any "noise" like hiss, that they've improved the sound. They are apparently tone-deaf when it comes to the actual music that got in the way of their precious hiss-removal goal.




Exactly.

BTW, I'm also a big supporter of 'original mix' presentations that preserve directional dialogue.

Just take those historic audio recordings that were good enough for the theater and LEAVE THEM ALONE. This refers to remixing *and* processing like noise reduction. Resist! Studios... resist!

I think that's why many LDs sound better too... for whatever reason, they tended to be less processed compared to the 5.1 mixes on many of today's DVDs (as evidenced by how much better sounding many of the 5.1 mixes on LD and older DVDs sound compared to modern 5.1 mixes. Think Mermaid, Poppins, and Dolly).
 

MatthewA

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The Best Sound Oscar from 1954 to 1971 (arguably the Golden Age of Multichannel Magnetic Sound):

1954 The Glenn Miller Story
1955 Oklahoma!
1956 The King and I
1957 Sayonara
1958 South Pacific
1959 Ben-Hur
1960 The Alamo
1961 West Side Story
1962 Lawrence of Arabia
1963 How the West Was Won
1964 My Fair Lady
1965 The Sound of Music
1966 Grand Prix
1967 In the Heat of the Night
1968 Oliver!
1969 Hello, Dolly!
1970 Patton
1971 Fiddler on the Roof

In that time the following films were nominated:

10 musical winners in 17 years, all 4 track or 6 track stereophonic sound originally.

In addition, during that time, the following musicals were nominated for the award:

Brigadoon
Love Me or Leave Me
The Eddy Duchin Story
Les Girls
Pal Joey
Porgy & Bess
Flower Drum Song
The Music Man
Bye Bye Birdie
Mary Poppins
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Camelot
Doctor Doolittle
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Finian's Rainbow
Funny Girl
Star!

After that era, the other musicals to win the award were Cabaret, Amadeus (not a musical per se but a film which relies heavily on music), and Chicago. Nominated musicals since then are Funny Lady, A Star is Born (Streisand version), The Buddy Holly Story, Pennies from Heaven, A Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Moulin Rouge!

I say leave it alone or if you can't, include the original sound mix, too.
 

Chuck Pennington

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What's weird is I believe LITTLE MERMAID was recorded digitally, so I don't understand the need to flatten the sound out like it is on the DVD :-(

The HELLO DOLLY AC-3 LD also had a very heavy subwoofer channel that really kicks - though a little too much for my tastes, but still... The 2-channel PCM Stereo from the digital tracks sounds nothing like the AC-3 - and nothing like the DVD either. So wild how different things can be when they are all sourced from essentially the same master - oh well... I'm making hybrids of a few major titles I like, but I shouldn't have to fix what the studios should be getting right in the first place.

I wonder what method they go through to downmix L LC C RC R into L C R.
 

Robert Harris

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Of the various titles listed above, some were mixed in 4 track and spread to 6 for 70mm printing.

Lawrence and My Fair are two examples, although MFL was derived for re-issue in 1994 and later home video from the six track print master for a number of reasons.

I was told by Mr. Kubrick that 2001 was posted in the UK in 4 track, with the final sequence shipped and finalized in 6 in L.A., as the latter was unavailable in the UK at that time.

RAH
 

Chuck Pennington

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Weren't a lot of the Columbia musicals in 3-track stereo, like OLIVER, and then blown up to 6-track? OLIVER sounds particularly odd on DVD with completely silent surrounds except for background audience audio in a few crowd scenes that feels like it was just plugged in from some raw elements to make a 5.1 DD mix for the DVD. Wasn't it 2-channel matrixed surround on Laserdisc and VHS? I wonder if those actually sounded more involving than the DVD :-(
 

DaViD Boulet

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Hey Chuck,

that points to some interesting issues. There are times when 2.0 Pro-Logic encoding actually *enhances* the subjective quality of a particular mix... because the decoding process pulls out all out-of-phase information for the rear channel.... not just the discrete original rear information intended by the mixing engineer.

It's a limitation of ProLogic, but one that actually can result in a pleasing artifact.

Top Gun is a great example. The ProLogic laserdisc was a reference for surround-sound for years. The scene on the deck with the wind whirling around from the jets was as visceral and chill-inducing as it gets.

Then the 5.1 DVD comes out with the discrete mix as intended by the creators.

The new (intended) surround information was vastly less involving in that same scene... because now you were only hearing what the mixing team planned for you to hear... and not all that fantastic out-of-phase L/R information that they didn't intentionally plan.

I have no knowledge of the case with Oliver's mix and what it was supposed to sound like. However, as a general rule, it's important to be aware that even hitoric mixes may at times underwhelm us based on the decisions by the original sound engineer about what sound went where. When we first fell in love with these soundtracks in ProLogic from 2.0 limited sources like Cable, VHS, and Pre-AC3 laserdisc, we need to always be aware that it's possible that part of what we fell in love with were the mistakes that ProLogic makes. That's not saying for certain that ProLogic will always sound subjectively better than the discrete mix that was intended, or that any given discrete mix presented on DVD is a faithful representation of the original theatrical mix experience and may in fact have problems that our ears are discovering... but it's an important fundamental to keep in mind while we do our investigating...

 

Chuck Pennington

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For anyone keeping score... HELLO, DOLLY! on DVD has several reels which are out-of-sync. The first reel is one - jusrt check out Barbra's singing of the first song and compare it to any other video or Laserdisc version. The audio is 4 or 5 frames faster than the video. I noticed this when making my hybrid using the AC-3 sound from the last Laserdisc release.

Fox did much worse on LET'S MAKE LOVE - the audio is WAY off sync on 2 reels in that one and it is VERY noticeable. :-(
 

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