— November 12, 2020
Whether you pick up Interstellar, The Dark Knight trilogy, or even the recently released Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s movies have more in common than their overwhelming brilliance: Their problematic sound design. More often than not, fans have complained about how the dialogue is inaudible in contrast to the background score that cancels out what is being said. In case you have been one of those irked moviegoers then rejoice as you have the support of multiple directors who actually called Nolan to relay their annoyance over the sound design in Interstellar.
When Interstellar released in 2014, many viewers expressed their dissatisfaction over the film’s use of sound, making it impossible to hear key dialogues in some places. Even back then, Christopher Nolan had come forward to defend his choice and claimed that it was “the right approach for this experiential film.”
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“Many of the filmmakers I’ve admired over the years have used sound in bold and adventurous ways. I don’t agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue. Clarity of story, clarity of emotions – I try to achieve that in a very layered way using all the different things at my disposal – picture and sound.”
The recently released book, The Nolan Variations, written by Tom Shone explores the director’s thoughts on his vision and the cinematic elements he adheres to. In the book, Nolan reveals that it wasn’t just the moviegoers who had an issue with Interstellar’s use of sound but also fellow directors found it “inaudible” and even called him up to complain about it.
“We got a lot of complaints. 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.”
According to Nolan, the film employed the use of sound exactly as he wanted it to and in fact, he is quite surprised about the “conservative” mindset of moviegoers when it comes to cinematic sound.
“It was a very, very radical mix. 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.”
What many pegged as unnecessary noise was actually planned with a lot of hard work to achieve “a wonderful feeling of scale” along with “a wonderful feeling of physicality to sound that on Interstellar we pushed further than I think anyone ever has.”
But even as Nolan sticks by his experimental sound mixing, moviegoers and critics alike also continue to make it known that whether it was Interstellar’s score, the amped-up loud explosions in Dunkirk, or the dialogue-heavy Tenet’s soundtrack, they find the director’s sound-mixing overpowering and generally deafening. This news comes to us via IndieWire.
Christopher Nolan Got Complaint Calls About Interstellar Sound Mix from Other Directors