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One of the biggest complaints that audiences have had with Interstellar, besides whatever story quibbles viewers may have with the film, is the sound mixing. A subject of recent and intense debate, the fact that the film's audio drowns out certain pieces of dialogue has caused audiences to complain to their local theater - which has in turn has theaters properly attributing the sound mix "issues" to Christopher Nolan himself. In recent days, the director has admitted that the sound was mixed the way it was to enhance the experience, but I found out just how precisely the sound was mixed during an interview this past weekend.
While talking with Richard King, Mark Weingarten, and Gregg Landaker, the top three men who gave Interstellar its out of this world sound, I asked what they had to say about the public's response to the film's perceived sound issues. As the feature's sound re-recording mixer, Landaker was the obvious expert to question about this particular matter. His answer was fascinating, as his revealed just how precise the mix on Interstellar was tweaked.
"The sound mix process that we went through ... every note that you hear, every piece of dialogue you hear and every sound effect has been manipulated to a quarter of a dB - to Chris's specifications."
Considering the careers of all three men I interviewed (Gregg Landaker in particular, as he's worked on everything from The Empire Strikes Back to Men, Women, and Children), the fact that the sound mix was done this way on purpose and without resistance says something about the way the film was made. Landaker even reflected how most directors - especially the ones that are also writers - want to "hear every piece of word." So why would Christopher Nolan, a man who clearly has a way with words and stories that need to be fully taken in to completely understand them, make Interstellar carry such experimental choices?
The answer, as Landaker provided, is that the film's emotional storytelling requires it.
"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."
If that doesn't sound like the Christopher Nolan we all know and love/hate, then I don't know what does. And indeed, upon seeing the film for a second time the day after this interview, Interstellar plays with the sound enough for you to really listen to the scene, but at the same time it lets you hear what the sound must have sounded like on set the day Jessica Chastain's Murph tells Casey Affleck's Tom that, "Dad's gonna save us!" It's a happy medium between picture perfect sound and on set capture that's supposed to really help you get into the film's very personal story. That verisimilitude is something that Gregg Landaker and company can really appreciate, as Landaker remarked, "When you're in a rocket ship, you're not going to be able to have a normal conversation."
Interstellar is in IMAX and conventional theaters now, and you owe it to yourself to see it again on proper IMAX 70mm film, as the sound mix comes across much better in that venue than it did with a digital IMAX presentation.