Interstellar sound problems

From the first screenings of Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar, you could hear the controversy coming. Audiences in different cities complained about the sound in the film. Nolan’s mix, or something in the presentation, resulted in several lines of dialogue – seemingly important lines – being blown out by sound effects and music. Was this an artistic choice by Nolan? Or was it the fault of individual theaters?

/Film reported on the sound issues, and as the story spread over days, no one would comment. Not Nolan’s camp, not Paramount Pictures and not IMAX. The only update was from one theater in upstate New York, which blamed Nolan for the sound. Now, finally, Nolan has responded to the controversy. Does he accept blame? Does he even think there’s a problem? Read Nolan’s quotes about the Interstellar sound problems below.

Nolan chose The Hollywood Reporter as the outlet to respond to the reported Interstellar sound problems:

“I’ve always loved films that approach sound in an impressionistic way and that is an unusual approach for a mainstream blockbuster, but I feel it’s the right approach for this experiential film,” the director said. “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.”

Well that certainly sounds like any points in the film where dialogue can’t be heard was intentional. He continues:

“Usually [I visit] six or seven [theaters]. I like to hear it out where people are going to see it, not just in the cocoon of the dub stage. That is something I have done for years, because everything we are doing is intended to communicate something to the audience,” he said. “The theaters I have been at have been doing a terrific job in terms of presenting the film in the way I intended. “Broadly, speaking there is no question when you mix a film in an unconventional way as this, you’re bound to catch some people off guard, but hopefully people can appreciate the experience for what it’s intended to be.”

Among the specific theaters Nolan visited and check were the TCL Chinese IMAX and Arclight Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles as well as the AMC Lincoln Square IMAX in New York. More Nolan:

“We made carefully considered creative decisions,” Nolan said. “There are particular moments in this film where I decided to use dialogue as a sound effect, so sometimes it’s mixed slightly underneath the other sound effects or in the other sound effects to emphasize how loud the surrounding noise is. It’s not that nobody has ever done these things before, but it’s a little unconventional for a Hollywood movie.”

In the interview, Nolan then discusses a few specific scenes in the film where he did this. [BEGIN SPOILERS] One such example, is the final one between Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain:

The creative intent there is to be truthful to the situation – an elderly man dying and saying something somewhat unexpected. We are following the emotional state of Jessica’s character as she starts to understand what he’s been saying. Information is communicated in various different ways over the next few scenes. That’s the way I like to work; I don’t like to hang everything on one particular line. I like to follow the experience of the character.


In the end, Nolan said he and his team mixed the sound “for months and months and we talked about everything.” So any of those sound issues we heard are the way he want it. And if you saw the film in a theater where you could hear everything? Well, that isn’t what Nolan wanted. It’s odd, but that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

What do you think?

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