Christopher Nolan finally addresses all those complaints about Interstellar's sound

Contributed by
Nov 17, 2014

Though Christopher Nolan’s (Inception) latest effort is garnering a solid box-office performance to go with largely positive reviews, one lingering complaint about the genre epic is the extremely uneven sound mix. It’s hard to clearly make out the dialogue in several scenes, and some action scenes are overly loud to the point that it’s grating.

In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan makes no apologies. He said he wanted to use the sound mix to convey the experience of things like space travel — which is obviously pretty darn loud — and use sound as another way to tell this story, as opposed to just dialogue and music:

“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. 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 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. We made carefully considered creative decisions. 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.

The idea is to experience the journey the character is going on. [For instance] the experience of being in the cockpit is you hear the creaking [of the spacecraft]; it’s a very scary sound. We wanted to be true to the experience of space travel. We wanted to emphasize those intimate elements. I also love the quality of the sounds Richard got inside the truck. It’s echoed later in the film, with one of the key spaceship scenes. To me, there’s something very frightening about feeling the environment affecting the vehicle or the capsule you are in — whether it’s sand and dust hitting the windows of the truck you are in or the atmospherical forces while you are traveling in a space capsule.”

It’s easy to see the approach Nolan was aiming for with Interstellar, and though it’s hard to make out some lines at times, the sound definitely does add another dimension to the story. But by straining to hear what’s going on, it also had the side effect of (sometimes) taking the viewer out of the story — which we doubt is the intended effect.

What did you think of Interstellar’s sound mix? Could you hear all right?

(Via The Hollywood Reporter)

Make Your Inbox Important

Get our newsletter and you’ll be delivered the most interesting stories, videos and interviews weekly.

Sign-up breaker