Posted Wed Dec 23, 2015 at 01:50 PM PST by Sponsored Post
What a terrific year for home theatre audio enthusiasts. Dolby Atmos is now readily available on over 30 domestic Blu-ray titles (even more international options should you care to import) and it's gaining traction via streaming services like VUDU. 2016 looks to take the format even further, as pretty much every studio tentpole has announced support from the format, theatrically, while we'll only have to wait a week for the year's first new Dolby Atmos Blu-ray ('Sicario' on January 5th). In other words, a treasure trove of audio delights are coming our way.
As we anticipate new title announcements, as 2015 sails into the night, let's explore this year's final Dolby Atmos Blu-ray release, 'Pan'. Directed by Joe Wright and written by Jason Fuchs, 'Pan' takes audiences back to the beginning, telling a grand tale of how an orphan named Peter found his way to Neverland and became a legend called Pan. Along the way we me classic J.M. Barrie characters such as Hook, Smee, and Tiger Lilly as Peter might find the courage to fulfill his destiny while searching for his long lost mother. As a Dolby Atmos mix, 'Pan' boasts a hemispherical soundstage that engages height and surround level speakers for a strong sense of overall immersion. The sound design team has done an excellent job panning effects that are rendered with absolute clarity, as well as dispersing John Powel's film orchestrations across the entire listening environment. I was particularly taken by the film's sensation of physical space in the Neverland sequences; woods and canyons and mine shafts are layered with atmospherics and reverberated echoes. Dolby Atmos converts will likely be quite pleased by this mix, though titles like 'Gravity' and 'Mad Max Fury Road' still represent the format's highest bar.
If you're looking to show off your new Dolby Atmos system, here are our top five favorite demonstrations to be found in 'Pan' (and a requisite SPOILER WARNING):
Our first demo is one of the film's most inventive action sequences. It's World War II London. Peter and his friend Nibs are both orphans living under the cruel dictatorship of a heartless nun. One night, as the boys are sleeping, pirates drop down out of the sky on ropes, snatching boys up through orphanage skylights. Incredibly the boys find themselves aboard a flying pirate ship, which is immediately confused for enemy aircraft and bombarded by the Royal Air Force. This demo begins quietly with bits of action, of pirates dropping down and boys' voices flying up into the ceiling. On the flying ship, we get sails and wind and screams and a rousing score. Metallic chain links clink into place. Then the sequence builds to a rousing climax, as fighter planes strafe the galleon with scores of machine gun bullets. LFE levels are taught, especially when the ship takes a dip in the River Thames and when a train rumbles overhead. This demo is perfect for showing off the difference between ear-level-only surround sound... and Dolby Atmos.
As the stolen orphan boys arrive in Neverland, they meet their new overlord, Blackbeard, a villainous pirate who has enslaved thousands of stolen boys to help him mine solidified fairy dust. To whip his slaves up into a frenzy, Blackbeard pushes the crowd to sing Smells Like Teen Spirit (yes, that one). I think we could argue over whether or not this Baz Luhrman esque approach to the material works, but it makes for an excellent demo because is shows of Dolby Atmos' ability to build realistic sonic environments. It sounds like you're tucked low into a canyon with thousands of cheering and singing boy-slaves. Then, as Blackbeard gives his speech, there's just the perfect amount of echo and reverb. Play this demo to test out how well your speakers are positioned and to look for any gaps in your soundstage; if everything is calibrated as needed, it will provide total immersion.
Peter has escaped the villainous Blackbeard along with the roguish James Hook and the bumbling Smee to search for Peter's mother. After crash landing in the forest, they build a fire and begin to talk about their lives... Only it's very clear that they are not alone in these woods. For this demo, pay special attention to how detailed the wooded environment sounds. Insects and animals buzz in the distance. A fire crackles. Then the clittering, clacking Neverbirds (imagine Kevin from 'Up' but made of bones) descend from above. What follows is a fantastic chase with heaping servings of LFE and aggressively-panned whooshing wings before one of the natives appears from the shadows with a slashing sword and a helping hand. This demo is perfect for those who want to test out individual speaker levels, because these sound pans fly all over the place and will show off any speaker that's too hot or too cold.
Things have gone from bad to worse in Neverland. Blackbeard has tracked Peter down and attacked the natives. Peter, Tiger Lilly, and Hook are afloat on a raft, drifting down a canyon in the middle of the night. But you better be careful where you leave your hands, because these waters are infested with crocodiles. This demo opens with noises just under the water's surface. Something is stalking our heroes. Splashing about. Suddenly the crocodile leaps over our heads -- sending splashing sounds with it and rumbling the LFE -- and knocks Peter into the water, where we follow him into the dark depths. I loved the sensation of being under water as well as the wind-swept crackling of waiving torches across the front soundstage. This demo is best used for scaring your water-phobic relatives after holiday pie.
Like many action adventure stories, the battle-laden climax offers the perfect time to unleash the full fury of a sound mix. IE, what should be the most emotional scene in the movie, will also be the loudest and most audibly complex. 'Pan' serves one last gorgeous set-piece in the form of two flying galleon tearing through the Fairy Kingdom, which looks like the cross between the Fortress of Solitude and a mine shaft. This sequence offers up all the shooting flames, swirling fairy clouds, crashing galleons, whomping LFE, and creaking and stretching ropes you can handle. Swords crash and fists fly and a demo that shows off this mix's excellent dynamic range -- from soft to loud, from high to low. If an eleven minute demo is too long for you, the alternative time code to stop is 01:32:23, which acts as a bit of a break in the sequence. The full eleven minute version is definitely a fuller and richer experience because it adds effects like falling into the whirling wind and a full fairy swarm, but demos can get too long for some guests and friends. Play this final demo to test how your system responds to reference-level volumes. Does the bass boom too much, or do the speakers become harsh and bright? If it under-performs to your tastes, you may consider more calibration tweaks and/or new loudspeakers.
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