Old Movies with New Sound Effects
April 2, 2011 9:43 PM   Subscribe

Why, when remastering old movies, do they record new sound effects to dub over the original audio?

I've seen it happen in a few old movies now, and I don't know why they do it. For example, if you watch the new HD version of "The Apartment" (on something like Netflix -- the blu-ray hasn't come out yet) you can tell when they are playing cards in his room that they dubbed over the original mono track with a new recording. Mainly because the audio quality is blatantly different.

Why do they feel the need to do this to old movies? I find it ruins the original feel and is distracting.

Is there a legitimate reason for doing it?
posted by koolgiy to Media & Arts (5 answers total)
My guess would be to make the original, mono soundtrack 5.1 surround sound. This post on AVS Forum seems to back my theory. As for why, companies can sell more dvds by slapping a "5.1 surround sound" label on the box, or at least that's what they think.
posted by catwash at 10:32 PM on April 2, 2011

I'm guessing what you're probably hearing is the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix MGM did for The Apartment Collector's Edition in 2008. A remix means they're not dubbing new tracks but attempting to translate the original ones into different audio channels. A review of the 2008 Collector's Edition, if this is the version you watched, questioned why this was done and noted "Some effects were more clearly localized, as speech and a few other specific elements occasionally came from the sides." Perhaps you could disable surround sound on whichever device you're using or perhaps the blu ray version will have a better mix?
posted by sharkfu at 10:34 PM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know the details on The Apartment, but audio restoration teams are known to record new FX for surround remixes. Probably the most notorious case is Vertigo, which had its soundtrack fairly dramatically overhauled as part of a big mid-1990s restoration. In that case, there were multichannel stems of the original Bernard Herrmann score that were in good shape but there was no extant source for many of the sound effects. In order to convert the soundtrack to multichannel, many of the FX had to be recreated from scratch, which arguably has a dramatic effect on how the film plays. There was a contentious discussion about this in film-buff circles. I hate to link to the Wikipedia article on that film, but in this case the "Restoration" section of the article contains a good overview of the situation.

It's possible that The Apartment is just a remix of the original mono stems, assuming they still exist in usable form. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if the creation of new sound elements — or even just choosing new ones from a studio sound library — was included within the boundaries of a studio 5.1 "remix."

When I watch a DVD or Blu-ray of a movie that was originally released with a monaural soundtrack, I always check the menu to see if the original mono mix has been included on the disc. If so, I select it (without fail). If it's not, I curse loudly and just put up with the (almost always thinner, more diffuse) 5.1 version.
posted by Joey Bagels at 7:11 AM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

In most cases, it is what others have said- the engineers have a new medium to play with and they feel like people will feel ripped off if they don't hear something coming out of all the speakers. Just like when stereo records came out and all of a sudden weird sound effects started showing up. Just because they can.

In other cases, it might be that they have access to some of the original material, they are just remixing the original stuff with newer tools.

Thirdly, most of the original sounds you hear were probably foley effects anyway, and are no more real than a new foley effect.
posted by gjc at 7:20 AM on April 3, 2011

Thank you all for responding! Didn't think I would get this much feedback.

With The Apartment, I'm pretty sure it was newly recorded foley, because it was very noticable and wasn't timed very well.

I never considered the whole 5.1 marketing angle that they could use with new restorations. That might be why they did it.

(And to the last response, I know it's not real, but it's the original audio track -- the way it was when the movie was made. It feels like they're tampering with it.)

If a movie is mono, it should be left mono! :P
posted by koolgiy at 7:51 AM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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