Posted Mon Apr 24, 2017 at 11:32 AM PDT by
Michael S. Palmer
Last week, I had the extraordinary privilege of attending the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 world premiere at The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. As I've written before, Hollywood premieres are a unique because they are a few hours where the magic of Hollywood, rather than the often mundane business aspects, shine brightest. There are screaming fans, stars on the red (or in this case purple) carpet, free concessions, and a cavernous auditorium where filmmakers, performers, and craftsmen also gather for the Academy Awards.
On top of all of this generally good buzz, we had a ginormous laser Dolby Vision projection system with its 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio with one of the most expansive Dolby Atmos configurations in the world. So technically, The Dolby Theatre isn't a true Dolby Cinema (or Dolby Cinema at AMC), but for you to experience the movie like I did, you'll need to see out the Dolby Cinema format.
THE MOVIE ITSELF
With the original Guardians of the Galaxy -- heretofore known has Vol. 1 -- director/co-writer James Gunn and his creative collaborators put a fresh spin on the comic book and space opera genres. Fusing together meta-comedy, a band of rogues, '70s rock music, a neon color palette, and a unique tonal balance, the filmmakers arguably produced one of Marvel's best pictures in its growing canon.
This week sees the release of Guardians Vol. 2, which is a rare comedy sequel -- like 22 Jump Street -- that stands shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor. I'll leave our full in-depth review to Phil Brown over in the Bonus View, but, for me, Vol. 2 feels as fresh as the original while simultaneously giving you a heaping serving of the elements that worked so well the first trip 'round the galaxy. Much of this is due to the way Gunn and team give the story time to breathe. In place of the now-standard bloated, overly plotted "turn off your brain" blockbuster, Vol. 2 focus on its characters and thematics, pairing people (and aliens) off to deal with their fears and flaws... all while making the audience laugh themselves silly and -- somehow -- feel a genuine connection to main, CGI, and secondary characters alike. (#BabyGroot4Ever)
In other words, if you enjoyed Vol. 1, get your walkman ready because Vol. 2 is gonna be on repeat for a long time.
Projected on a large screen with a proprietary, dual-4K laser projection system, Dolby Cinemas boast more brightness, wider color capabilities, and the best contrast ratio of any commercial cinema experience today (IMAX Laser is also all kinds of wonderful). Guardians Vol. 2 is simply glorious in Dolby Vision, offering start-to-finish eye-candy that is colorful and sharp with pure black levels.
Not only are there moments where the screen simply vanishes, plunging the auditorium into darkness, but I'm fairly certain there are extended sequences that feel like they've been graded to the wider Rec.2020 color space (I'll make sure to update this when I confirm). If that's true, it's only the fourth production to do so since Pixar's Inside Out. (the sub-conscience scene) & The Good Dinosaur (the bad fruit scene), and the entirety of The LEGO Batman Movie. If I'm wrong, then this is one of the most visually stunning uses of the DCI P3 color space I've ever seen.
My comments must sound like hyperbole -- and, make no mistake, the tech geek in me is genuinely excited -- but, sincerely, this movie is a visual stunner. Play close attention to the fauna of Kurt Russel's planet, or to the exotic worlds and planets visited as Rocket space-jumps between them all, or to what's best described as celestial fireworks near the film's final moments. I very much enjoyed the movie along, but couldn't help but sit back at least once a scene to marvel at all the digital artistry on display. Jaw... dropped.
Since Disney has yet to support Dolby Vision or HDR10 in the home entertainment landscape, if you get a chance to see Vol. 2 in a Dolby Cinema, take it. It's quite honestly the best HDR/WCG I've ever seen, sitting next to Pacific Rim for pure eye-candy glory.
Let's just hope we get to take this one home someday.
[4/26/17 RUMOR UPDATE: there are rumors going around saying James Gunn was SO impressed by releasing Vol. 2 in Dolby Vision and Atmos that he's pushing Disney to release this movie on Ultra HD Blu-ray with both technologies. So will Guardians Vol. 2 be The Very First Disney UHD title??? Gosh, I have no idea, but I sure hope so.]
While Vol. 2 doesn't define Dolby Atmos in the same way Mad Mad Fury Road or Gravity did, the latest Marvel adventure uses the object-based surround format in consistently engaging ways, proving filmmakers are thinking about sound mixes as Atmos-first rather than multi-channel affairs that get an Atmos upgrade.
Vol. 2 in Dolby Atmos offers an ultra dynamic and immersive aural experience that surround geeks will be drooling over. Dialog is spectacularly clear, even when characters are off screen -- there's a terrific demo moment where Chris Pratt is trying to find tape, his voice bouncing around up and down and behind the audience left ear. LFE levels are also on point, providing heart-pounding heft to gunfire, explosions, and crashing ships. The classic rock tracks have never sounded this clear. And the effects themselves range from whole room immersion down to, as describe above, smaller little Atmos moments.
I wasn't in the Dolby Theater's sweet spot, but from where I was sitting, the whole thing was impressively technical but never exhausting. I look forward to revisiting it from my favorite dead-center seating in the next week or two.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun and fantastic example of how modern blockbusters can be clever and dramatic and laugh-out-loud funny all while delivering compelling character arcs and thrilling action set-pieces. In other words, you need not turn off your brain to enjoy this one, but you'll probably want to check out Vol. 1 to get the most out of Vol. 2.
Even if the movie weren't enough to warrant a recommendation all on its own, Vol. 2 features one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful Dolby Vision HDR wide color gamut gradings I've ever seen, right up there with Pacific Rim, The Jungle Book, and Inside Out (which featured one scene in Rec.2020). In all my years of cinema-going, I've never seen colors as vibrant. The Dolby Atmos mix is also brimming with immersive spectacle and quieter moments making use of pinpoint precision.
There will be many fantastic ways to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when it opens May 5th (well, May 4th the night before), but there won't be a truer way to experience it than a Dolby Cinema. I know I'll be going again and I hope to see you there too.
To find a Dolby Cinema at AMC location near you, click HERE. Thanks again to everyone at Dolby for such an amazing night.
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Michael S. Palmer
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Posted Fri Dec 2, 2016 at 04:14 PM PST by
Michael S. Palmer
This week I had the great fortune to do something quite rare in the new-parenting universe. I went to the cinema. Twice! And, during this week's different-day double-feature, I realized a couple things. First, nothing replaces the full experience and scope of going to a movie theatre. More important, though, contrasting experiences underscored how vital it is to seek out a quality auditorium when stepping away from our home theatres.
My first screening was the contained sci-fi drama, 'Arrival', which is wonderful and heartbreaking and smart and everything in between. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Dennis Villeneuve and the rest of the cast and crew made an incredibly moving and suspenseful film. I loved every frame.
But I also loathed every frame.
No, there weren't any focus issues or obvious projector problems. The sound was actually quite good. Cellphones stayed in pockets. And the auditorium itself was a modern and well-maintained Arclight location. But the contrast. Good lord, this purposefully shadowy movie was cast almost entirely in smudged GRAYNESS thanks to certifiably abysmal black levels. And with no black levels -- no contrast -- you lose colors and the overall image seems softer. It's a feedback loop for mediocrity.
I hadn't realized it until this moment, but swapping between my Panasonic Plasma and the VIZIO P-Series and the LG E6 OLED (review next week!) has spoiled my ability to watch content on displays with crap contrast. I almost walked out because it's a bit of an artistic tragedy to watch films this way.
Then came my saving grace.
Then came 'Moana', which is currently heading into its second weekend at a variety of multiplexes, including several Dolby Cinema at AMC premium auditoriums.
If you don't know what I mean by Dolby Cinema, have a read over HERE to catch up. The quick definition is this: Dolby Cinema, or Dolby Cinema at AMC, is a state-of-the-art cinema experience that combines Dolby Vision (a dual 4K laser projection system with a MILLION-TO-ONE contrast ratio) with Dolby Atmos (a fully hemispherical surround sound system that adds more subwoofers, full range and overhead speakers, and individual speaker amplification to standard commercial surround sound), leather recliners, and a massive screen.
Dolby Cinema (along with other competing laser projection systems) is one of THE BEST ways to watch movies. It's on par going out and buying yourself an OLED or Full Array Local Dimming equipped Ultra HD LCD, only the screen is probably taller and wider than your house.
'Moana' is Disney's latest Princess story. Like 'Frozen', it is modern with a fully realized (but flawed) female lead whose story is all her own. In other words, she's not waiting to be saved by a loving prince. Moana is the daughter of a Pacific Islander chief. She dreams of exploring the open ocean, but Dad won't let her leave the protective boundaries of their island's reef. Moana is also special; she has been chosen by the ocean itself to take on a special journey to find and escort the demi-god, Maui, across the sea so he can return the stolen heart of an island. If Moana fails, her island will die along with everyone she knows and loves. It's also a musical with a chicken sidekick and tons of details portraying the Pacific Islander voyager cultures. Much like 'Arrival', I loved every single frame and can't wait to share it with my little girl.
On top of a great story and characters and action, I was fortunate enough to catch 'Moana' at the AMC Del Amo 18, which is home to one of the newest Dolby Cinema at AMC auditoriums. The best way to describe this film's video and audio quality is to say, if it was an Ultra HD Blu-ray with Dolby Atmos sound, it would be one of the best looking and sounding discs in your collection.
'Moana' is pure demo material from start to end.
The Dolby Vision graded imagery was gobsmackingly gorgeous and rendered with a dazzling array of colors. Unlike Pixar productions, Disney Animation Studios productions offer less semi-photo-real surfaces, but that's not a problem at all. Moana's Island is drenched in tropical forest greens and turquoise waters and pink sea shells. Her side-kick chicken bursts with a mix of brown and purple. Moana's manta-ray spiritual guide shimmers in and out of the rolling waters with a neon glow. Maui's tattoos appear handmade in a deep shade of black. Volcano-monsters erupt with red and orange lava. And this one underwater realm of bioluminescent monsters features some of the most vivid colors ever put to film (to digital?). It's all incredible. Textures too are well rendered and bold, from creatures and clothing to the canoe sails to Moana's hair (both dry and wet). Dolby Cinema at AMC typically only plays is 2D, but the Dolby Vision version of 'Moana' is so clear it feels like you're watching glasses-free 3D.
(For what's it's worth, I checked with Dolby and did confirm 'Moana' is in the DCI P3 color space, but I thought maybe that sequence in the underwater land of the monsters was Rec 2020.)
'Moana's Dolby Atmos mix is shut-up-and-take-my-money good. If THIS track doesn't convince Disney's home entertainment division to include the Atmos mix on the Blu-ray, we may never hear a Disney film at home beyond 7.1. Compare this mix to what Marvel's doing with Atmos and it's a clear demonstration of how filmmakers can 1) utilize this technology in vastly different ways and 1) a lesson on how you can build entire aural universes with object-based audio. This mix rockets back and forth between intimate and grand, delivering everything from the subtle nuances of gently lapping waves and pecking chickens to the hemispherical immersion of epic Disney musical numbers to the all out assault of action sequences that are as thrilling as anything in 'Mad Max Fury Road'.
I just can't get over how Dolby Atmos, when done as right as it was here, tears away the sensation of sitting in a darkened room and propels audiences directly into the story. One moment I was a husband and father in his mid-30s, and the next I was a young princess listening to the songs of my ancestors, charging across the tropical seas with voices and orchestras and sound effects cascading all around me. I was also a fan of the mix's aggressive use of overhead sounds and deep rumbling bass. Like I said, demo material... made all the more pleasurable because the movie's also pretty great.
I write about Dolby products a lot. Sometimes because they invite me. Sometimes because I need a story. And sometimes, like today, because I'm simply in awe of what I've just experienced. As such, my goal here is to shout into this universe that QUALITY matters. Quality impacts the emotional experience of going to the cinema. And sure, quality won't save a bad movie, but it certainly adds to the magic of the good ones.Continue Reading
So do yourself a favor. Don't miss the chance to see 'Moana' in a Dolby Cinema before it's too late (click HERE for a list of locations). We may never get another opportunity to see and hear it as the filmmakers intended... on a sixty-plus-foot screen with laser-quality black levels surrounded by several dozen high-end speakers. Cheers.
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