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Marc Wielage

DUNKIRK: Too Loud?

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Interesting headline in INDIEWIRE this week...

 

‘Dunkirk’ Is Too Loud For Some Viewers, 

But Christopher Nolan Says That’s the Way He Likes It


Complaints are starting to mount. Is it bad theaters, Nolan's unorthodox and bold use of sound, or is it just too damn loud?

 


Yesterday during an advance screening of “Atomic Blonde,” the roar of “Dunkirk” from the theater below could be heard — and felt — above and beyond an ass-kicking Charlize Theron. Christopher Nolan’s World War II movie is loud — but when does soundscape become bombast?

 

“It was VERY loud. Too loud in fact,” wrote a Reddit user in a popular post titled “PSA: A warning about Dunkirk.” “It might be the loudest movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean like a gun shot here or an explosion there, I mean sustained loud noises for minutes at a time. For large sections of the movie the soundtrack and the effects merge in this cacophony of noise and it becomes difficult to differentiate between any of the sounds. On a number of occasions it actually distracted me from what was taking place on screen. If you have trouble with prolonged loud noises you might consider waiting to see this until you can control the volume.”

 

http://www.indiewire.com/2017/07/dunkirk-too-loud-christopher-nolan-1201860027/#spf=1501820074456

 

I haven't had time to see the film yet, but by an interesting coincidence I watched Inception a couple of weeks ago on Blu-ray on a new set we just bought for the house... and I thought it was way too loud. The dialogue was buried (I'm guessing) about -2dB low compared to the music. FX were fine, it was the music that was offending. A quick look back to published reviews on that film reveal that several critics also commented that the theatrical version had moments where dialogue was hard to hear.

 

I generally like Nolan's films, but jesus... 

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codyman   

I saw Dunkirk on 70mm in the Cinerama Dome on Sunset.  I went with a buddy who had already seen it at the Universal City Imax where he said his ears were ringing afterwards.  I am pleased to say though that the Dome screening of it was great and even though my friend had seen it before, he said the movie made a lot more sense (LOTS of characters and moving around in time in this picture...) since he actually could hear the dialogue proper and not be overwhelmed by just SFX.

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War is noisy.
 

This is not a traditional narrative film.  There's no "local girl has tryst with downed enemy pilot" subplot as the war rages outside.  It's intended as experiential -- and succeeds in that regard.

 

Less noise, and you'd be pulled back from the "circle of action" a bit more, and that's not what the filmmaker intended.

 

My one negative sonic observation is that the additional sound design -- such as dramatic musical cues -- sometimes detracted a bit from the "you are actually there" aspect of the experience.

 

I had the privilege of experiencing it at an IMAX theater with 70mm film projection and found the sound levels to be appropriate.

 

 

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The director of the the theatre show I'm currently working on, who is also a movie director, saw the film yesterday in a local cinema and said the biggest problem he found with the sound was lack of dynamic range, pretty loud all the time, so no space for big sound events. I plan to try and see it over the weekend.

 

John

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I saw Dunkirk a few days ago, in an IMAX theater, and the experience still inhabits my subconscious. It is a relentless and immersive experience that comes as close as I can ever recall to taking me inside the events as if I had lived through them myself. Over about a week the retreating forces of the British Expeditionary Force, pushed onto the beach at Dunkirk, were continually harassed by advancing German soldiers and strafing planes. The peril was incessant and Nolan's movie replicates this as faithfully as he can in a movie theater.

 

The roar of low-flying planes is thunderous and bombs and bullet strikes seem close enough to feel concussive. After watching for nearly two hours one has an acrid, gunpowder taste of the event. It is bravura filmmaking.

 

But, having said that, I also noticed that I struggled to hear some of the dialog, I lost not just the occasional word but often whole phrases and lines. There's not much dialog in the movie and events and action drive the account rather than words. Still something was lost. 

 

I don't know if the theater (AMC in Burbank) was 70mm IMAX or the true 15-perf horizontal projection of original IMAX. I suspect the former. It seems there may be substantive differences from theater to theater and format to format.

 

David

 

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DafyddM   

My wife complained and she doesn't normally notice these things so I guess it's universally accepted as being too loud. But on the creative side the power of it all was really moving, could you get that from a quiet showing not so sure. 

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I read an interview where an actual soldier from Dunkirk sad the movie was louder than the war zone he remembers.

 

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cmgoodin   

I saw Dunkirk at the Arclight In Sherman Oaks in 70MM Film projection.  I found the track louder than any other film I have seen.  I also was annoyed by  the buried dialogue and the constant use of Synthesizer "Chug Chug Chug Chug" bursts of white noise to heighten the dramatic moments and add to the din of the music and explosion sounds.   I felt the "SFX" or Score artificial and it kind of took me out the the moment as it drew attention to itself.  I think there was a lot of work that went into the sound (mostly in post)  because the Imax 15 perf cameras are not blimped.  (some of the closer dialoge scenes were filmed with Panavision 5 perf 65MM Sound blimped cameras).  Typical of most Nolan films there was almost zero character development and so you had trouble identifying with the characters since we don't even know their names in most cases much less their backstories.  I think we had the most empathy for the Mark Rylance character and his sons?  And he didn't show up until quite a ways into the film. Of course because of Nolan's obsession of not paying attention to time or continuity it is impossible to figure out the timeline.   They constantly cut from day scenes to night scenes to dusk to high noon and back to night, while we are supposed to believe this takes place over just a day or perhaps 2.  Who knows?  One thing I did like was because the film was shot on celluloid and mostly had a photochemical finish (no computer DI),  it thankfully lacked the over stylized color palate that most tent-pole movies sport these days.  This added to the more realistic depiction.

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daniel   

I liked the sound on Dunkirk (for me 1 of the better things about the film). The opening scene, after the boy had jumped the wooden gate and the sound of the machine guns getting closer and tearing the wood to pieces filled me with the kind of dread that had me asking myself if this was a film a wanted to see.

I did like the integration of the films score and the sound fx, although i do recoil at the use Elgar's Nimrod (1 more time in a war movie - almost making this film just another extended music video to this piece of music). I don't remember struggling to understand any dialogue, but little of it was needed as exposition and when it was it was the heavy weights (Brannagh and Rylance) enunciating.

In my experience where you sit in the cinema and accents do have an impact on intelligibility. I saw 'Hateful8' twice in the same week and swapped seats at the halfway point on the 2nd viewing. I found a couple of lines in the stage coach a bit tricky to me, 1st viewing (in the stalls, Leicester Square ) but totally intelligible in the upper level (also Leicester square). The irony for me was my seat in the stalls was 2 away from where QT had sat went he attended the UK premier and he had complemented the cinema on their presentation of the film (which left me wondering about the familiarity of accents and sound track, especially if you've viewed a piece hundreds of times in an edit). The 3 story lines in Dunkirk are meant to take place over 1 hour, 1 day and 1 week and I enjoyed the complex way these were interleaved, especially when we see the same event through the these differently scaled time lines.

 

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mikewest   

I suppose it depends on the cinema! I saw it at a local cinema, great sound quality and loud Brilliant aerial shooting, low on drama story, score virtually non existent. Not impressed mike

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