Bad sound at Dragon Tattoo
December 26, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I tried to see Girl With the Dragon Tattoo today, but ran into sound problems on two different screens at the same theater. The symptoms were fairly specific, and I was curious if anyone familiar with cinema sound systems could tell me what the problem was.

The trailers I saw for this movie, at the same theater, had excellent sound. During these screenings, the sound was very thin, to the point that people reaching for popcorn was interfering with my ability to hear it. The opening song, which I know is huge-sounding, sounded more like a ringtone. Dialogue was overpowered by background music, and the audio sounded like it was only coming from small speakers at the very front of the theater. The trailers before the movie also sounded like they were only coming from front speakers, but the overall sound was much fuller.

I'm very experienced with studio recording, but I'm not too familiar with surround theater setups/how the sound is encoded on the media the theater plays. It sounds like there's some kind of center channel problem, but I don't know enough about theater technology to speculate beyond that.
posted by yorick to Technology (6 answers total)
Sounds like a problem with the centre channel, possibly source, if you had the same issue on two screens.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 3:39 PM on December 26, 2011

From your description it sounds like the center is reproducing the surround tracks. Could be wrong on the digital file, or mapped wrong if its a filn print.
posted by chasles at 3:43 PM on December 26, 2011

Regardless, at this time of year, it might be something that the studio would like to hear about.
posted by rhizome at 3:44 PM on December 26, 2011

Ex-projectionist here:

The sound track actually sits right next to the images on the film. It is read by an optical device and the film passes through the projector. It looks like this, where the hole you see in the media there is the hole that a roller's sprocket uses to engage the film (like 35mm camera film).

If the trailers had proper sound, the reader is presumably OK, and the audio receiver for the auditorium is fine and configured correctly.

The problem is either an issue with the print (where one of the data tracks on my link above is messed up) or a scenario where the external media (in the case of DTS sound above) is flawed some how...

Without being able to fiddle with the machine and film in question, it is impossible to tell.
posted by milqman at 8:15 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a projectionist.

Because of the crazy transitions the industry is going through right now, it's hard to say anything certain about what the issue might have been at your cinema. Tech set-ups in booths right now are still quite varied: some are still showing 35mm, many (just within the past year, too) have converted to digital, all will have varying sound systems in place. Knowing whether you saw the film at a big chain or an independent theater or in a major city or in a middle-of-nowhere multiplex would help for guessing at what their set-up was likely to have been.

milqman gives a good outline of the sorts of issues that might cause this in a 35mm booth—but if the film was projected digitally, there are a whole host of other issues it could have been, ranging from a file issue (I've heard tell of digital cinema packages arriving without subtitles, without parts of the soundtrack, even without entire parts of the movies missing—not to mention things like this [scroll down]—none of which are things anyone on the cinema's end can do anything about except calling the remote studio tech people who send them the files) to a distracted-projectionist issue. (If the cinema is screening multiple formats—say 35mm, HDCAM, DigiBeta, and DCP—the projectionist has to choose the proper sound format to play the show on using the sound processor. If they select the wrong setting on the processor, the sound can come out sounding godawful like what you describe).
posted by bubukaba at 10:24 PM on December 26, 2011

I saw GWTDT, and I noticed the sound at beginning was horrible. It did seem to get better (or I got used to it) but never got to what I would call good. I assumed it was the theater but maybe the film or the prints were not handlee correctly.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:47 PM on December 26, 2011

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