Posted Wed Oct 14, 2015 at 08:02 AM PDT by Sponsored Post
October is unofficially Dolby Atmos Month here at High-Def Digest. Hot off the release of last month's ultra dynamic 'Mad Max: Fury Road', we're getting four new Dolby Atmos Blu-rays by month's end (alongside theatrical features like 'The Martian', 'Sicario', and 'Pan'). Sony has dipped into its catalog for the new Supreme Cinema Series with 'Bram Stoker's Dracula', 'Leon: The Professional', and 'The Fifth Element', while Warners is unleashing its summer disaster blockbuster, 'San Andreas'.
'San Andreas' stars Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as hotshot LAFD helicopter pilot, Ray Gaines. When a Earthquake swarm reaps massive destruction from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Ray teams up with his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), to find and rescue their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), who had hitched a ride up to San Francisco with Emma's new boyfriend, Daniel, in advance of starting college. The movie weaves together scenes of survival and apocalyptic disaster with a thrilling sense of scope made all the more effective by one of the best Dolby Atmos mixes to date. This track is guttural and explosive and immersive from beginning to end.
If you're looking for sequences to test out and show off your Atmos home cinema, here are the Top 10 Dolby Atmos demos from 'San Andreas', arranged in chronological order (WARNING: SPOILERS to follow):
In the film's save the cat sequence first major setpiece, Ray and his team swoop in to rescue a teenage girl from an SUV hanging precariously off the side of a claustrophobic canyon wall. This demo sets the tone for the rest of the soundtrack, featuring a storm of swirling helicopter rotors, spitting rock debris, tinkling glass, and snapping metal. For much of this sequence, it truly feels as though you're trapped of the side of the cliff with the characters.
Behold thundering LFE. The movie's first major earthquake sequence takes place at the Hoover Dam. Cal Tech seismologists Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee) are trying to calibrate their new earthquake prediction software when a quake rocks a previously undetected fault line and brings down the massive dam as tourists flee to escape. This demo boats thudding bass in the form of cracking concrete and crashing waves. Atmos height channels are most active in the dam's tunnel, while driving electric guitars really wake up front right and left.
As the Earthquake swarm reaches San Francisco, Blake and Daniel are attempting to depart an underground parking garage. Their drive races to escape the structure as car alarms blare and chunks of concussive concrete begin to fall. This scene takes the rumbling quake and adds a mixture of revving engines, squeezing tires, and exploding glass. What makes this special is the way the sound designers captured the tonal reverberations of a concrete parking garage. Height effects also come to life in the form of objects falling down onto the audience as well as the limo's tumble through a hole in the garage.
As one of the film's two signature setpieces, it's hard to beat this demo. In it, Ray flies into downtown Los Angeles as the city crumbles to rescue Emma, who is trapped on a rooftop. If that weren't insane enough, as soon as Emma is on board the helicopter, Ray and Emma find themselves in the shadow of several timbering buildings. This demo is awesome in the purest sense of the word, mixing together explosions with helicopter rotors and alarms, and bouncing the audience POV from the rooftop to the chopper's cockpit where Ray fights to control his aircraft amidst tumbling debris. The sequence even stops for a moment to take a quick breather before ramping up the destruction once again. The Atmos immersion truly makes it feel like a building is cascading downwards into your home theatre.
What can go wrong will go wrong. As Ray and Emma race for San Francisco to rescue Blake, glancing at the carnage below, Ray's damaged helicopter gives out and he's forced to auto-rotate into a shopping plaza parking lot. This demo stands out because it offers some of the best 360-degree effects panning in the whole film as the helicopter spins out of control amidst blaring alarms, crunching metal, and smashing glass. This demo is likely the closest you'll get to experience a helicopter crash without having to survive the real thing.
Time to take it down a notch. Disaster movies and action extravaganzas get a lot of attention for their auditory might and muscle, but it's important to remember Dolby Atmos immersion works just as well (and some might even argue better) for quiet moments. In this scene, Blake and her new friends, Ben and Ollie, are walking the streets of San Francisco with the other survivors. They're supposed to meet Ray at the famous Coit Tower, but the neighborhood is on fire and now they need to figure out Plan B. While these scene finally gives your subs a rest, it offers the best atmospherics on the Blu-ray. Clear dialog, crowd noise, footsteps, distant helicopter and sirens. The sound mixers have built a immersive universe that feels audibly real.
f you only have a chance to demo one scene from 'San Andreas', make it this one. The Holy Crap moment from the trailer in full, glorious, extended form. Ray and Emma have barely made it to San Francisco where they commandeer a small motor boat to go around the peninsula city. But before they can figure out where Blake might be, the bay's water level begins to drop. On the horizon, a cataclysmic tsunami, hundreds of feet tall and growing, is racing to overwhelm them. Ray and Emma's only hope of survival: make it over the tidal wave before it crests. This sequence blends a nuanced mix of roaring boat engines, spraying water, rising musical score, a creaking metal cargo ship dumping truck-sized containers from above, and the rippling destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. An orchestrated maelstrom designed to slap a smile onto every audio geek's face, the Atmos immersion truly comes to live when Ray and Emma slip their boat under the slicing propellers of a titanic cargo ship.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. In this scene, the Gaines family is briefly reunited (visually), only for the building where Blake, Ben, and Ollie had been hiding to begin sinking. It erupts with a massive low frequency note followed by crystal clear windows exploding inwards, and makes excellent use of height channels to really immerse the audience under the flowing water. If you don't swim or don't really like water, maybe this demo isn't for you.
There are a few scenes where in the place of bombast, the filmmakers elected to show more aural restraint by pulling back on realism and, instead, opting to show off somber orchestral elements. In this sequence, Ray tells Ben and Ollie to break a window so they can escape the building and board Emma's waiting boat. But when the glass won't break, Emma takes the boat, rams through the window, and drives everyone to safety as Ray does CPR on his dying daughter. It plays a little bit like the Millennium Falcon escaping the second Death Star. From an Atmos perspective, there is falling debris plunging into water, a broken window, and the rising / enveloping score.
Dolby Atmos is for immersive movie sound mixes, yes, but it also works wonders with music that's traditionally presented in stereo. For our last demo, cue the disc two minutes into the closing credits where Sia's remake of the classic Mamas and the Papas song begins. This track was used evocatively in the film's marketing campaign, as it opens with Sia's haunting voice over a still piano and a bit of choir before launching into something more akin to a Bond theme song. Hearing this track in Dolby Atmos with different instruments and bits of background vocals popping up in all locations, is a lushes experience that excites me for more Dolby Atmos music opportunities.
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