We all remember a few year ago when The Dark Knight Rises prologue featuring the plane heist was released as a preview. The first thing everyone said was “Wow!” then they all asked if anyone had a clue what it was that Tom Hardy’s Bane was saying?
Between the drunken James Mason impression he seemed to be doing with his voice, the lack of ability to lip read due to the mask, and a soundmix that didn’t seem to support dialogue over score and sound effects, it was a challenge. The internet, of course, caught fire. Warner Bros. picked up on it. Somebody leaked to The Hollywood Reporter that the studio were concerned over, what they termed as “The Bane Problem” and Nolan was eventually convinced, under protest, to alter his original soundmix.
Nolan explained that it was OK for an audience not to hear each and every word. It was more important for them to understand the general idea and direction of travel. Feel, rather than follow exposition. The studio got their way that time. Not since then. Nolan parlayed his $1 billion box office into control and he has final say on soundmix since then.
Then issues raised their head again, this time with Interstellar. Nolan was clear that it was a conscious decision to push Zimmer’s score higher than the script, explaining:
“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. I’ve always loved films that approach sound in an impressionistic way and that is an unusual approach for a mainstream blockbuster, but I feel it’s the right approach for this experiential film.”
Now Nick Pope at Esquire has highlighted that he feels the same issues are present in Tenet:
“…the time-twisting tale of a CIA agent who… well, I don’t know really. He runs around a lot and wears nice polo shirts under even nicer suits. I think he mentioned nuclear war at some point? I could barely understand a word of it, to be honest. Even when there were no explosions or masks or cod-Russian accents to get in the way, I felt like I’d been dunked underwater every time a character spoke. In my mind, that presents a problem when almost every piece of dialogue is exposition for a complicated plot that isn’t too invested in making sense to begin with. I walked into Tenet expecting to be confused, but not frustrated.”
He then took to the internet to research and found he wasn’t alone.
Whoever was responsible for the sound in Tenet pic.twitter.com/zFWbUQGmcf
— Sadi 🦋 (@pastadiscourse) August 26, 2020
Tenet is relentlessly impressive, intensely spectacular and a dazzling mind fuck. However…the sound mix is so overwhelmingly maximised that it's sometimes difficult to properly hear the dialogue, making an already complex plot unnecessarily more difficult to grasp. pic.twitter.com/NDZ4QGFMCz
— jimi fletcher (@mrjimifletcher) August 26, 2020
Does Christopher Nolan need to see an ear doctor? Serious question… hearing MULTIPLE a complaints about #Tenet regarding the sound mix, saying some scenes are impossible to hear the dialogue. I don’t understand why this is a constant choice of his?
— Andy Signore (@andysignore) August 26, 2020
Tenet is out there in the wild now in certain territories and is imminent in others. What do you guys who have seen it think? Do you recognize the issue? Do we agree with Nolan that sometimes to feel is better than to hear?