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Christopher Nolan responds to Directors’ Criticism of ‘Interstellar’

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There’s one part of Christopher Nolan’s films that always stands out above the rest, and that’s the sound. His movie’s score is always spectacular, sometimes even dictating the audience’s emotions more than the dialogue. However, that does not sit well with some directors, who complained to Nolan that his film’s sound was often “too loud” and made the dialogue inaudible, especially in Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan defends his score in Interstellar

Christopher Nolan responds to Directors Criticism of 'Interstellar'
BAFTA | YouTube

From Interstellar to The Dark Knight Rises and Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s movies have always had an incredible score. However, some directors and moviegoers have had a problem with Nolan’s loud score in his films. In Tom Shone’s new book “The Nolan Variations”, Nolan says that he is surprised by how conservative cinema audiences are when it comes to his sound design. While talking about Interstellar, Nolan said:

We got a lot of complaints. I actually got calls from other filmmakers who would say, ‘I just saw your film, and the dialogue is inaudible’. Some people thought maybe the music’s too loud, but the truth was it was kind of the whole enchilada of how we had chosen to mix it. It was a very, very radical mix. I was a little shocked to realize how conservative people are when it comes to sound. Because you can make a film that looks like anything, you can shoot on your iPhone, no one’s going to complain. But if you mix the sound a certain way, or if you use certain sub-frequencies, people get up in arms.

Christopher Nolan was quite defensive about the score of his movies. According to him, his score adds a sensational feeling of “scale” that comes by because of his sound design. And he did that, especially with Interstellar. This kind of approach on the soundtrack gives Nolan:

… a wonderful feeling of physicality to sound that on Interstellar we pushed further than I think anyone ever has We really tapped into the idea of the sub-channel, where you can just get a lot of vibration. We used that for the rocket launch and the music

How Hans Zimmer and Nolan’s partnership makes his movies special

For such an approach to sound design, there are few composers better than German composer Hans Zimmer that Christopher Nolan can turn on. Their partnership is one of the best things to happen to Hollywood in the past decade, including on Interstellar. And only when Zimmer got the opportunity to design the soundtrack for Dune, did he turn Nolan down for Tenet. In the same book, Nolan had this to say about Zimmer and the sensations that his music would create:

A lot of it was the music where Hans [Zimmer] had this organ and he used the absolutely lowest note, which would literally make your chest drop. There’s certain low-end frequencies that automatically get filtered out by the software. He took all of those controls off, so there are all those sub-frequencies there. And we did the same on the dub stage. It’s a pretty fascinating sound mix. If you see it particularly in an IMAX theater, projected, it’s pretty remarkable.

With regards to Tenet, this did pose a problem for the audience. In our review of Tenet, we argued that in such a plot intensive movie, it would have been better for the audience to be able to hear and understand the dialogue. That was made tough by more the accents and less so by the sound design. Here’s the excerpt from the book where Christopher Nolan talks about his preference for sound design with regards to Interstellar.

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