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If you saw Interstellar in theaters and thought it strange that a few pieces of dialogue were drowned out by the sound effects, you’d be valid in your worry. This issue with the mixing has caused quite a stir among moviegoers, but according to the film’s composer, Hans Zimmer, there isn’t actually a problem.
During a roundtable discussion for The Hollywood Reporter with fellow film composers Marco Beltrami (The Homesman), Danny Elfman (Big Eyes), John Powell (How To Train Your Dragon 2) and Trent Reznor (Gone Girl), Zimmer was asked about this issue. Though the sound mixing seems to be a widely recognized source of error, the composer replied:
You know, one of the things Trent brought up was that we work as a team. For instance, Richard King, our sound designer, Alex Gibson, our music editor, Chris — we are all in this together. And we really discuss what our sonic landscape is going to be, before we even go in. And then the last six weeks are a period where every Friday, we'd watch the whole thing in a different theater and make little notes and stuff. So the last Friday, we had one week left and I remember watching the movie with Chris and everybody else. And for the first time in my life, I was saying, "I think we're done." There is nothing random in it. We made the movie that we wanted to make. And the controversy, if you want to call it that, is, yes, there will always be [one] if you're provocative in a certain way. These days people will take to the Internet. It seems to be that people who have to take issue with something are going to be the most vocal.
Zimmer has worked on the music for a number of Christopher Nolan’s films, including the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and The Prestige, and he’s a well-respected composer in his own right. So he knows what he’s talking about. However, at the time it was hard for most to ignore the buried dialogue, and audience members even complained about the sound to movie theater representatives. They, in turn, blamed it on Christopher Nolan. As it turns out, though, it was rightfully placed, but shouldn’t have been seen so negatively.
Last month, Cinema Blend spoke with Gregg Landaker, one of the folks behind the film’s sound, on the subject. While he said the sounds were "manipulated to a quarter of a dB" as specified by Nolan, Landaker described it more as a means of enhancing the overall effect of Interstellar:
Chris will push the envelope of not always spoon feeding the audience to follow his movie. He wants you to experience it as much as the actors and actresses are experiencing that set up."
Interstellar is still a great movie by all accounts and is unique in that it’s part of the shot-for-IMAX crowd. Heck, even astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson enjoyed it. It’ll be interesting to see, though, if it’ll get any attention from the Oscars. Could the sound mixing "non-issue," as Zimmer would call it, hinder its chances for the creative categories?