Lost in the complaints about the science, plot holes, and characters in Interstellar were the complaints about sound. Patrons and professionals alike found that in many places, the score and sound effects left the dialogue unintelligible. Director Christopher Nolan decided to respond in a very Christopher Nolan way, by essentially saying, Exactly! He told The Hollywood Reporter, “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.”
“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,” he explained, adding, “It’s not that nobody has ever done these things before, but it’s a little unconventional for a Hollywood movie.”
For example [SPOILER ALERT], the deathbed scene 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.”
Nolan said that not only did they spend six months on the sound, but he’s actually gone to theaters in New York and L.A. to make sure the sound is “correct.”
So, if it’s not the theater’s fault and it’s not Nolan’s fault, who’s to blame? You! “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.”
Hey, at least at this year’s Oscars, we’ll finally understanding what the hell sound mixing is.