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Do Nolan Films Have a Sound Mixing Problem? Director Addresses Complaints13.11.2020

Some reviews of Interstellar and Tenet openly said that the sound design in both films leaves a lot to be desired

Tom Shone, legendary critic whose credits include features in Vogue, Slate, The Guardian, and The New Yorker, recently published a monograph on the life and work of Christopher Nolan. The treatise, which the author called The Nolan Variations, is an exhaustive and elaborate profile of the multiple-award-winning director, and features chapters looking into his professional and narrative obsessions (Time, Chaos, Dreams). The book blends profound film analysis with conversations with the American director, previously unpublished photos, and storyboards. 

Shone was particularly interested in how Nolan’s blockbusters sound, as the subject has often been targeted by many of the director’s reviewers. Even some of the viewers began to complain that his particular sound mixing tendencies make it impossible to understand the characters and properly experience the film. Confirming what he already said in a notorious piece published by Indiewire soon after the release of Dunkirk, Nolan reiterated to Shone that these treatments were intentional: ““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.”

Nolan, renowned for his experimental, non-linear narratives and often balancing between dream and reality, also revealed to shone he was a strong unbeliever into unconventional sound design: “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,” the director asserted. You can find the excerpt from the Nolan Variations, in which the director gives a little behind-the-scenes peek at his work with Hans Zimmer, here

Coinciding with the Polish release of American director’s latest film, Tenet, we published a deep dive into Nolan’s work here on Papaya.Rocks.

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