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Demo Scenes: Ready Player One

Demo Scenes: Ready Player One

This is the first in a series of posts featuring killer demo scenes for putting a showroom system through its paces, making sure your new entertainment space makes the grade, or showing friends what your system is made of. Ready Player One is great for showcasing a luxury Atmos system (see “Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos”), highlighting all the creative and technical virtues of the latest generation of surround sound. The Atmos version of RP1 is available on Ultra HD Blu-ray, for download from Kaleidescape, and from streaming services like Vudu and iTunes.

—ed.

All you need to know about Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is that it’s packed with ‘80s pop culture references, with hundreds of overt and subtle Easter eggs that will constantly delight any Gen-Xer, with terrific nods to video games, comics, movies, TV shows, and more in virtually every frame.

 

Most of the film takes place in the OASIS, a virtual-reality world of near infinite size and scope where players can select an avatar of virtually any look and design. All scenes in the OASIS are entirely CGI, which contrasts with the film stock Spielberg uses to capture life in the gritty “real world” of 2045. The plot of the film is that characters are involved in a hunt for the ultimate Golden Easter Egg, which will both give them control over the whole OASIS and a half-billion-dollar payday.

 

RP1 is perfect demo material because its Dolby Atmos soundtrack features a Gary Rydstrom sound design that makes frequent and terrific use of all the speakers in your room, really highlighting the immersive audio experience.

Demos to Die For: Ready Player One
Scene 1: “The First Challenge”
(11:25 to 16:55)

 

This is just fantastic eye and ear candy throughout. First, be on the lookout for some famous cars in the race lineup. Easily viewable are Speed Racer’s Mach 5, the A-Team van, the original Batmobile, and Stephen King’s Christine. Once the race starts, the music stops and the scene is all about sound effects. Notice how the smoky exhaust from Parzival’s DeLorean wafts into the room, the smoke dissipating. The rumble as the bridge constructs itself is deep with bass, and the fireworks to begin the race explode overhead.

 

The race itself is pure home theater adrenaline. It’s filled with non-stop, insane mayhem, with cars cartwheeling overhead and around the sides of the room, racers swirling back and forth, around all sides, and overhead, with tires squealing for mercy. Colors are bright, and detail abounds no matter how frenetic the action.

 

Explosions have tight, deep, concussive bass, letting you feel each virtual metal-on-metal crunch—and you can practically track the progress of every bouncing coin or piece of debris. When T-Rex and King Kong get in on the action, their foot stomps raise the bass concussion to the next level, with roars/growls that energize the entire room. At the end of the scene, notice how the mechanical sounds of Art3mis’ bike dying are clearly placed in the back of the room behind the listeners, and gradually move to the foreground as she approaches the bike.

 

Scene 2: “Stacks Explosion”
(57:35 to 59:27)

 

This isn’t a long scene, but it does a terrific job of highlighting the not-so-subtle benefit of having Atmos height speakers, and of audio object tracking. Note how the drones buzz from the back of the room, almost over your shoulders, and then fly up to the front wall. You could close your eyes and pinpoint their position just by listening. You also get some terrific bass during the building explosion, with debris and shrapnel blasting into the room all around you. Real cinephiles might notice that Rydstrom borrowed from himself in this scene, using some of the same creaking and groaning sounds from the Titanic sinking.

Demo Scenes: Ready Player One
Scene 3: “A Shining Experience for Aech”
(1:03:15 to 1:08:33)

 

This last scene is a bit edgier, with a few scares, but never veers too deep into PG-13 territory and is suitable for all but the youngest audience. It’s a fantastic visual recreation of and tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining that’s incredibly fun to watch, especially through the eyes of Aech, who has never seen the movie.

 

As the group enters the video library, you hear movies swirling around overhead, with distant thunder and lightning creating the ambience. Notice the creepy score playing overhead, setting the stage inside the Overlook lobby. After the twins go back into the elevator, the tidal wave of blood cascades down the hallway, making the room sound like a river rapids ride, with waves splashing all around, lapping up the walls, and gurgling overhead. The creepy factor kicks up several notches when Aech goes into Room 237, getting attacked by a knife and axe-wielding rotting corpse, with axes chopping through and splintering the bathroom door and then slashing overhead and across the room as he stumbles through the hotel’s infamous hedge maze.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

Imagine watching a movie where sound travels around the room with pinpoint accuracy, helping you follow a character as they move around or enhancing the sensation of bullets whizzing past your head, planes streaking through the room, or helicopters hovering directly over your head! That is the promise of Dolby Atmos, which delivers the most realistic and immersive surround sound experience ever.

 

In my opinion, Dolby Atmos is the most exciting development to hit the home market in years and has an even greater impact on the movie/TV-watching experience than 4K HDR video. In fact, when forced to choose between watching a movie in 4K HDR without Atmos or 1080p Blu-ray with Atmos, I go the Atmos route every time. I’ve given dozens of demonstrations both in my showroom and in my home, and after experiencing a properly set up and configured Atmos system, no one has preferred the older, 5.1-channel sound. Atmos is a must have for a luxury installation.

 

Dolby Laboratories launched Atmos commercially in 2012 with Pixar’s Brave, and hundreds of films have been mixed with it since then. (Click here for a complete list.) It is now supported by every major movie studio, and the number of movies, concerts, and even video games with Atmos soundtracks is growing all the time. Atmos content is available on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, titles

downloaded from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, and from streaming services like Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.

 

How do you get it?

 

Experiencing Dolby Atmos in your entertainment space requires three basic things: An Atmos-compatible media player, an Atmos-compatible receiver or processor, and a speaker system that can handle however many channels you and your integrator decide to go with.

 

Compatible players include any Blu-ray or Ultra Blu-ray player, including Xbox One. Many streaming players support Atmos, including Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, and the new Apple 4K TV. Receivers and processors are available from companies like Marantz, Yamaha, Anthem, Denon, Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Integra.

 

What kinds of speakers do I need?

 

Dolby Atmos systems can support far more speakers than the 5.1 of Dolby Digital—up to 64 in commercial movie

WHAT MAKES ATMOS DIFFERENT?

 

Atmos is the latest in a long line of Dolby surround technologies dating back to the ‘70s. But, unlike previous versions, which were all channel-based (that is, the specific number of speakers the audio was mixed for in the studio), Atmos uses an entirely new process called “sound objects.”

 

Audio used to be mixed with a fixed number of speakers, up to 7.1 channels (front left, center, and right, surround right, surround back right, surround back left, surround left, plus a .1 channel reserved for low-frequency effects such as explosions). With Atmos, audio designers are no longer limited to a fixed speaker layout but have up to 128 sound objects they can move anywhere around the room, allowing sounds to be more precisely located.

 

These objects also have size and weight. Thus, a massive starship hovering overhead has a different feel—and plays out of more speakers—than, say, a bouncing tennis ball. All 128 of the audio objects from the original theatrical mix are retained and represented in the home release.

 

To precisely locate objects around the room, Atmos installations support far more discreet speaker channels, including multiple height speakers placed above listeners to create sounds that truly come from overhead. In fact, theatrical installations can have up to 64 speakers. Obviously, that is more speakers than home installations can support (Dolby Atmos for home cinema only supports up to 34 speakers), so Atmos uses something called a channel renderer to create a custom mix on the fly to remap audio objects to whichever speaker configuration is being used, meaning that nothing is lost between the theatrical and home audio mix.

theaters. One of the most significant changes with Atmos is the creation of two distinct speaker layers, with a bed of speakers at ear level and a second height layer that places sounds distinctly overhead. (See “What Makes Atmos Different?” above.)

The most common entry point for enjoying Atmos at home is a 5.1.2 speaker configuration. (In plain English, that means there are five speakers at ear or floor level, one subwoofer, and two speakers above ear level, for the height channels.) Most luxury installations use a 7.1.4 configuration (shown below). This provides a very immersive experience, with full 360-degree audio 

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

pans around the listener as well as good hemispherical coverage overhead.

 

For an even more engaging experience, companies like Marantz, Denon, Acurus, Storm Audio, and Datasat have receivers and processors that support more than 7.1.4 channels. And for a truly premium home experience, companies like Trinnov and JBL offer processors that can support the current maximum up to 24.1.10.

(While there are Dolby Atmos soundbars that do a fair job of creating an immersive audio experience, these would never be appropriate in a luxury installation, so I won’t be covering them here.)

 

Do I need speakers in my ceiling?

 

Yes. And no. (But mostly YES!) Having sounds all around the listener, including overhead, is key to creating a realistic, fully immersive sound environment, and locating speakers in the ceiling is the best way to help accomplish this. 

 

Fortunately, nearly any traditional, quality in-ceiling speaker is compatible with Atmos. (Dolby recommends using speakers with a wide dispersion pattern—that is, one that sends out sound more like a shotgun blast than a rifle bullet.) So choosing a model from the same manufacturer as your front speakers typically offers the best sonic match.

But if you can’t place speakers above you—due to a coffered ceiling or an open-beam design or difficulties running wire to the speaker locations—companies like Definitive Technology, Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer, Klipsch, and KEF offer floor-standing Atmos speakers with modules (shown at right) that can create an overhead speaker effect.

 

These angled modules sit atop the front and rear left and right main speakers, firing sound upward, where it’s reflected off the ceiling and bounced back down to listeners. While these can be great problem solvers, the audio effect of these upfiring modules is impacted by room design—ceiling composition, angle, and height, and seating distance—making it harder to predict performance compared to a true overhead speaker installation.

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is a now a proven technology, widely adopted in both movie theaters and at home, and is almost always included as part of a modern luxury installation. If you’ve been looking to elevate your home audio experience to the next level, Dolby Atmos is a terrific place to start!

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Between passively sitting back and watching a movie and actively being involved in every action and decision while playing a videogame lies a relatively uncommon bit of media called an interactive film. Kind of like the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series those of us who grew up during the ‘70s and ‘80s will remember, interactive films feature a story that unfolds differently depending on the choices you make at several moments throughout, resulting in a variety of possible conclusions.

 

With its latest installment in the Black Mirror anthology, Netflix is going interactive with the new film Bandersnatch. According to Netflix, “Bandersnatch is an interactive film that reacts to your choices. You’ll be able play on newer smart TVs, most 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

streaming media players, game consoles and web browsers, and iOS and Android devices running the latest version of the Netflix app. If your device is compatible, you’ll see the interactivity badge on the film below [in the upper right-hand corner of the image].”

 

Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to enjoy Bandersnatch. Of 

the multiple Netflix-capable streaming devices in my home, several weren’t compatible, including a new Apple 4K TV, Dish Hopper 3, and Samsung UBD-K8500. Those who use Google Chromecast are also left out of the fun.

 

What did work was the Netflix app in my Sony XBR65X930D TV (two generations old at this point) and my Xbox One S. (PlayStation4 is also said to work though I wasn’t able to test.)  I could also enjoy the interactive experience using the Netflix 

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

app on my iPhone 7—but watching a movie on a phone is a fairly soulless experience and certainly not recommended. Also, it wouldn’t work when I used the Netflix App from the Microsoft Store on my PC, but would work on the same PC when I just went to Netflix.com.

 

When you try and play Bandersnatch on a non-supported device, you’ll be taken to a two-minute trailer featuring scenes from previous Black Mirror episodes with multiple characters saying, “I’m sorry . . .” and then the primary Netflix account receives the email shown at the left.

 

Bandersnatch’s running time is listed at 1 hour 30 minutes, but your actual adventure could last quite a bit less depending on your choices. Fortunately, if you end up making a “wrong” decision, the film will give you a chance to go back and re-choose. A brilliant touch is that if you decide to make a different decision, you’re greeted with a quick fast forward kind of recap of the decisions you’ve made to get you to where you are. It’s bit like a customized series recap, and I found it pretty cool instead of just throwing you back to where you were. 

 

The first choices are pretty benign and come just a few moments into the film, where you pick which breakfast cereal you’d like to start the day with, followed by what 

music you’ll listen to on your ride into work. As the story progresses, the decisions start becoming weightier and have more impact on the story: Will you drop acid? What will you do with a dead body?

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Selection is a simple left, right, and enter, and the branching between storylines is truly seamless in that there are absolutely no breaks, hiccups, or interruptions whatsoever in the action or audio as your choice is carried out. You’ll also start to notice subtle things like in-movie ads that are based on prior choices you made. From a technical standpoint, Bandersnatch is masterfully executed and was fun to watch, err, play.

 

Without spoiling the fun, Bandersnatch takes place in 1984 and revolves around Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk), who is working to turn a famous Choose Your Own Adventure book, Bandersnatch, into an interactive video game. The film also includes Colin Ritman (Will Poulter, The Maze Runner) as prodigy video-game designer and somewhat mentor to Butler.

 

The story becomes very meta when Butler starts having a psychotic breakdown because of the workload and stresses of immersing himself in creating the game. He begins questioning reality and starts to feel he is no longer in charge of his own life—like there is someone else out there deciding things for him; what breakfast cereal he’ll eat, what music he’ll listen to . . .

 

The seeming “free will” and open ended-ness of the bulk of the story is a bit limited in actuality, and the film ultimately guides you to toward the end, which will have wildly different conclusions depending on choices you make late in the film. But how you get there—and how many times you’ll need to go back and make a different decision—and what sub-stories you see along the way varies based on your choices.

 

Most of the endings are a bit dark, twisted, and macabre, fitting in with what Black Mirror viewers have come to expect from the series. But I found them all varied and interesting enough that I enjoyed going back and re-choosing decisions over a period of 2.5 hours until I felt I had seen all the possible outcomes.

 

Bandersnatch is presented in 4K HDR and looks good, especially the many night and dark scenes in Butler’s room. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack also does an admirable job of keeping dialogue intelligible while adding some nice atmospheric effect.

 

Black Mirror is an episodic show that has been described as a modern version of The Twilight Zone revolving around technology. IMDB describes it as “An anthology series exploring a twisted, high-tech world where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide.”

 

For those who are fans of the series, or just looking to expand their viewing options for an evening, Bandersnatch is unlike anything you’ve watched before and definitely makes for an interesting experience.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The High Cost of High Expectations

The High Cost of High Expectations

photo by Tom Pumford

The other day I had the opportunity to work on a job using a camera system I had only heard stories about—that is to say, I had never personally used it for my paid professional work. Needless to say I was more than a little excited, struggling to contain my inner fanboy, as I began the shoot. After about an hour behind the lens, something became increasingly clear, something I wasn’t expecting . . . I hated the camera. Oh, I loathed it. It threw me for a complete loop, for how could I, after all these years of yearning, not only be disappointed by this machine but actually be upset by it?

 

I’ve seen the same happen to AV enthusiasts time and time again. The reason often has to do with many of our opinions being formed by the opinions of others rather than being based on firsthand knowledge. It took me all of an hour to realize I would never recommend this product to another despite it winning countless Best Of awards and being the IT product to have in a given year. More shocking still was that when I quietly shared my displeasure with a few of my colleagues, they instantly rushed to the defense of . . . the product! As if my personal opinions (that is what we’re talking about here) were invalid, and it was me who had the problem—not the product!

 

When we self-identify with a hobby, product, or group, we take offense when that something is called out or criticized. For if there is something wrong with our choice in whatever, that must mean there is something wrong with us . . . right? Better to attack what threatens us rather than reason with it, even if this means not being able to reason with our very selves. It is this latter point that I find especially prevalent among AV enthusiasts—especially older diehards (or dare I say, blowhards).

 

I have on numerous occasions been in the presence of individuals who have five- and six-figure AV systems that others heap praise upon for their drool-worthiness, and yet know that these same individuals spend nearly zero time enjoying their setups. I know that if many had to do it all over again, they would likely never have purchased much of the gear they currently own, opting for something less intrusive and cumbersome. They stick with it because of this notion of clout.

 

I’ve watched people listen intently to something they clearly do not like and still buy it anyway because it must be them—the customer—who is missing something. That with time they will see the light so to speak. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we feel we are incapable of trusting our own judgement when it comes to AV equipment? Is the draw of an award, or the seemingly endless string of others who “believe,” that strong of a pull that we’re willing to lie to ourselves? Or is it because we build up so many products into “legend” that the mere idea they may be “mortal” is too much for us to take?

 

I don’t pretend to know the exact answers.Suffice to say that the phenomenon is very real and only growing stronger, as more and more people in this world are choosing to live vicariously through the actions and ideas of others. Don’t believe me? I recently produced a video entitled “Vinyl Sucks” for YouTube, and within three days it garnered over 100,000 views and over 

1,500 negative comments—mostly directed at me on a personal level for my opinion. The funny thing about this being, I don’t think vinyl sucks, and in the video I say as much. I even explain that despite its shortcomings, it has great value to me and others. But I opened with a critical—albeit humorous—jab, and as a result I was roasted for it.

Why is there a right way and a wrong way to enjoy your favorite music and movies? If there is, who decides? Have you lied to yourself about equipment you’ve purchased in the past, or maybe even currently own?

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

Venom

Venom

I’ll freely admit that I’m a superhero-movie fan. Ever since seeing the original, Christopher Reeve Superman: The Movie as an 8-year-old, I’ve loved watching these heroes battle to save the planet up on the big screen, and now in the comfort of my own home.

 

No franchise has done more to raise the bar of the superhero genre than Marvel, which, for the past 10 years, has been crafting a spectacular, epic tale that has gradually been drawing an entire universe of characters together in a battle for half the galaxy that began in Avengers: Infinity War and will culminate in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. (Not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU], but still spectacular superhero viewing includes Wonder Woman and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, especially The Dark Knight, which transcends the superhero genre into the realm of simply spectacular cinema.)

 

I bring this up because as much as I enjoy superhero films, I knew virtually nothing about Venom prior to watching. In fact, my only previous knowledge of the character was his appearance in the 2007 Spider-Man 3. From that film, I learned that Venom was an alien entity that bonded with Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and kind of became like a bad version of the character, wearing a black version of Spidey’s costume.

 

With this latest reboot of the character, I expected Venom to continue the MCU trend of bringing multiple characters together, or would at the very least include Tom Holland, who has taken over Spidey’s mantle starting in Captain America: Civil War and continuing in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Infinity War.

 

Well, umm, no.

 

While it was made in association with Marvel Studios, Venom is a standalone Sony Pictures release bearing no obvious connection to the MCU or even to Spider-Man. This is part of a complicated legal and licensing agreement between Sony and Marvel that you can read more about here.

 

So, unless you’re a hardcore Venom fan, you can scrap everything you think you might know about Venom and just go into this cold. In fact, knowing nothing might actually be the best way to approach this, since you won’t be burdened by any required geek-cred knowledge of backstories, interwoven plot lines, or fear of missing any fanboy Easter eggs.

 

This is an origin story, attempting to introduce and launch a new expanded universe of Spider-Man characters. But the film has a big shortcoming in the casting of (or maybe it’s the direction or the dialogue given to) Tom Hardy, who plays both Edie Brock and Venom. Brock is supposed to be this killer investigative journalist, but, honestly, Hardy comes across as just too slow, clunky, and dim-witted to be even close to believable in this role, and the early scenes with him as a journalist were the hardest for me to just sit back and enjoy.

 

Fortunately, your suspension of disbelief over Hardy’s journalistic prowess doesn’t need to last long, as he soon bonds with the alien symbiote Venom, who was brought back from a space exploration mission and kept locked in a lab looking for a compatible host. Once Hardy absorbs Venom, the rest of the film has him coming to terms with his new amorphous, shape-

shifting, and head-chomping alter-ego as the movie transitions from one action piece to another as the duo looks to take down the techno-billionaire bad guy. Actually, I found Hardy more believable post-infection since his body adapting to the “parasite” offers an explanation for his semi out-of-it behavior.

 

One thing Sony knows how to do is release fantastic-looking 4K HDR films,

and Venom is no exception. Detail and color are first-rate throughout, but especially during the multiple night scenes in San Francisco, where the city looks stunning. These shots take full advantage of HDR to produce bright lights and vibrant colors while retaining deep and solid black levels.

 

Venom has no shortage of big action scenes and visual effects, which all look terrific. One of the best scenes is a chase through downtown San Francisco (happening around the 54-minute mark) that highlights the best of what Venom is: Pure balls-out mayhem, with a liberal dose of SFX thrown in for good measure. Just don’t count how many times The Rialto theater appears in the background. Rather, sit back and enjoy the cars smashing and Brock/Venom racing manically through the crowded streets on a motorcycle.

 

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equally impressive, offering a very dynamic mix that will definitely give your system a workout. There are tons of moments where the height channels are called into action, whether it’s drones or helicopters flying overhead, gun mayhem, or just the ambience representing the acoustic space on screen. Bass is particularly impressive, having a ton of weight and impact, with explosions you’ll feel in your chair. Venom’s voice is also recorded with a very cool effect, booming from all around and sounding like it’s coming from inside your head. 

 

The Kaleidescape download includes five pre-marked scenes, along with several bonus features, including multiple making-of docs, deleted scenes, and a special “Venom mode” that engages “informative pop-ups throughout the film to provide insight on the movie’s relationship to the comics, and to reveal hidden references that even a seasoned Venom-fan may have missed!”

 

Venom belongs to that increasing group of films that sees a real divide between critics and fans. While scoring a meager 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, it managed an 85% audience score. In short, I’d say Venom is a classic big summer popcorn action film where it pays to check your brain at the door and just sit back and marvel (no pun intended) at the terrific visual effects and pummeling Dolby Atmos audio track. If you’re looking for some home theater eye and ear candy, Venom won’t disappoint.

John Sciacca

Venom

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Most good geeks will tell you 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series is not only the greatest cartoon of all time but also the best rendition of the Dark Knight. I’m not inclined to disagree with them, but my favorite riff on the Caped Crusader is actually the oft-forgotten 2008 animated series The Brave and the Bold. Unlike every interpretation of the Batman mythos before it, The Brave and the Bold manages to integrate every contradictory aspect of the character and synthesize it into a perplexing and intriguing whole. Yes, it acknowledges the darker, broodier side of the characterbut also the campy, goofier side. It puts some of Batman’s silliest escapades on equal footing with the grimmest tales in the character’s history. It’s a celebration of everything Batman has ever been. And, somehow, it simply works.

 

Netflix’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggsthe latest film from the Coen Brothers—has absolutely nothing to do with Batman, of course. But it reminds me a lot of The Brave and the Bold in that Joel and Ethan Coen, with their quirky old-west anthology, have managed to create a homage to cowboy cinema that embraces all its disparate aspects—from the singing cowboys of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to the grimdark western revival films of the ‘90s like Clint Eastwood’s brutal Unforgiven, and everything in between.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Tom Waits in “All Gold Canyon”

The resulting pastiche definitely wouldn’t work in the hands of less capable filmmakers, and it certainly wouldn’t work as a single narrative. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a series of six disconnected vignettes, each with its own style and tone, and each—it seems—intended to riff on different tropes from the history of old-west cinema, alternately exalting, tweaking, or subverting them. I couldn’t help but wonder, in the middle of “All Gold Canyon” (ostensibly starring Tom Waits, but more accurately starring some of the most gorgeous unspoiled vistas I’ve ever laid eyes on) why the film wasn’t shot in a wider aspect ratio, indebted as it is to some of John Ford’s later VistaVision masterpieces.

 

Put a moment’s thought into it, though, and that question seems silly. Ultra-wide aspect ratios, though possible at home, are the stuff of commercial cinemas, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was made for the small screen. It’s a film no major film

studio would have ever bankrolled. And that fact alone is one of the major reasons for the increasing cultural insignificance of commercial cinemas.

 

Does that mean we’ll see more films like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime become the 800-Pound Gorillas of the film industry? One can only hope. It’s a quirky, weird,

wonderful work that ranks amongst the Coens’ best since The Big Lebowksi.

 

It’s also worth noting that the film’s use of high dynamic range is amongst the most compelling I’ve seen in ages. You no doubt have access to a few different sources capable of playing Netflix in your home entertainment system. If any of those support Dolby Vision, go that route. The luscious landscapes—and even the obvious soundstage settings of the final vignette—benefit beautifully from the enhanced contrast, shadow detail, and lighting effects.

 

And, yes, in this case that really matters. The substance of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs emerges in large part from its style. That’s not a knock against it, mind you. It’s simply that you could easily sum up the narrative of any of these six episodes in a sentence or two. What makes the film work isn’t its narrative depth. It’s the artistry of its cinematography, the quality of its performances, and of course the inimitably ridiculous brilliance of the Coen Brothers’ too-clever-to-be-believable dialogue.

 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Mission: Impossible–Fallout

Like scotch, red wine, and balsamic vinegar, the Mission: Impossible franchise seems to be one of those rare entities that actually improves with age. The latest installment, Fallout, is the sixth in the franchise (they dropped the number in the title following III), and it managed to not only bring in the most money—both foreign and domestic—of any of the films, but also receive the highest review scores of the series from Rotten Tomatoes (97%), Metacritic (86), and CinemaScore (A).

 

While I wouldn’t brand myself a Tom Cruise fan, I have to hand it to the guy—he definitely picks fantastic projects to be involved in. And, six films in, he has IMF agent Ethan Hunt down pat. Also, he sure appears to do all his own stunts, whether it’s racing motorcycles or cars, jumping off buildings (where he actually broke his ankle while filming Fallout), or learning how to fly a frickin’ helicopter for one of the film’s key scenes!

Mission: Impossible--Fallout

Part of what makes the Impossible franchise work is familiarity. We know we’re going to be in for some major action set pieces, we know we’ll be whisked to exotic locales, we know there will be crosses and double-crosses, and we know there will be rubber masks, and Fallout doesn’t stray from that formula. We also have a returning cadre of IMF agents helping Hunt in the form of Simon Pegg, playing Benji Dunn for the fourth straight film, and Luther Stickell, played by a Ving Rhames, who has appeared alongside Cruise in every MI film. Christopher McQuarrie follows up his writing and directing efforts from the previous Impossible film, Rogue Nationwhich is fitting as Fallout is a sequel of sorts.

 

Eager to check out this latest entry, I downloaded it as soon as it appeared on Kaleidescape, where it was available months before the disc release.

 

The film begins roughly two years after the action in Rogue Nation, which ended, you might recall, with head Syndicate bad guy Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) being lured into a sealed glass cell, where he was gassed unconscious and taken into custody. (While not a prerequisite, Fallout does assume some level of MI film knowledge, and watching—or re-watching—Rogue Nation would definitely help stave off some confusion—or at least add to the enjoyment of the film.)

 

Lane’s capture was not the end of the Syndicate. Rather, the group’s loyalists have reorganized into a splinter cell, calling themselves the Apostles, with a terror-for-hire philosophy that has been wreaking havoc around the globe. Fallout begins with—and the plot revolves around—Hunt and team trying to track down and recover three stolen plutonium cores that new

mystery-terrorist John Lark wants to make into nuclear weapons and bring destruction to the current world order.

 

Most of the movie was shot on 35mm film, and the amount of grain and noise is sometimes a tad excessive in dark scenes, and in brightly lit scenes such as the all-white bathroom at the club. It isn’t a bad transfer by any

means—rather, it looks like film instead of video. But several scenes were filmed in IMAX, and these look simply gorgeous in 4K, with an absolutely stunning amount of detail.

 

The Dolby Atmos track on Fallout is fantastic and reference quality in every way. Just the opening title sequence, with the iconic theme pulsing from every speaker, is a terrific audio demo in itself. Dialogue is clear and easily understandable throughout, no matter how frantic the action gets. Bass is deep and loud when it should be, with explosions rocking your listening room and gunshots carrying the appropriate degree of crack and sizzle.

 

Fallout is also one of the more impressive Atmos soundtracks I can recall lately, with the full complement of surround and height speakers used extensively to provide immersion and ambient effects. For example, in the beginning of the film, Hunt and crew have a meeting in a tunnel in Berlin, and the audio reflects this acoustic space perfectly, with rumbles and echoes happening all around, including overhead.

 

The last 30 minutes of the movie are sheer action, with the majority presented in IMAX video quality. Visually and sonically, it’s the stuff of absolute home theater legend, and reference in every respect. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but let’s just say that helicopters make for some terrific overhead Atmos audio, and Fallout’s conclusion in the mountains of Kashmir doesn’t disappoint.

 

At nearly two and a half hours, this movie is lengthy, and packed with twists, turns, and character introductions (and reintroductions) throughout, so you’ll want to keep your wits about you and actively watch this instead of trying to monitor a cellphone or iPad and just checking in when you hear an explosion. (I dare say you’ll pick up things and understand the film better on a second viewing.) Fallout is one of those rare mega-dollar blockbuster films that really pays off, and really shines in a luxury home cinema!

John Sciacca

Mission: Impossible--Fallout

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Ep. 1: Is Home Theater Dead?

In the very first episode, podcast hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger (briefly) introduce themselves & explain what the Cineluxe site & The Cineluxe Hour are all about. At 6:38, Cineluxe contributor John Sciacca joins Dennis & Mike to help define luxury home entertainment & explain how you can have a personal luxury experience watching movies with a laptop & headphones. At 12:34, legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis joins the group to argue that dedicated home theater rooms are still the best way to enjoy movies at home, and to talk about his company, Ravya. And at 21:44, everybody weighs in on the most overrated movie directors ever before saying goodnight.

The Cineluxe Hour logo

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 5

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 5

As Trinnov’s Jon Herron mentioned in Pt. 4 of this series, when you sit down to watch a movie or listen to music, the sound generated by the electronics and speakers is perceived in three key ways. Firstly, there’s the sound that travels straight from the speakers to your ears. Secondly, there’s the sound bouncing off the walls, floor, and ceiling one, two, or three times, which takes a slightly less direct path to your brain. Then there’s the fainter echoes and reverberations that ping-pong around the room.

 

Every room generates its own mix of those three elements. It’s what makes your room sound like your room—its unique sonic fingerprint. But here’s the thing: It’s also what makes your room sound decidedly unlike the claustrophobic interior of a submarine or the rolling dunes of Tatooine or the craggy and cavernous wastes of Cirith Ungol.

 

That’s one of the main reasons I selected the Trinnov Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer to serve as the centerpiece of the trade-show booth’s audio electronics. But as Jon pointed out, to fully deal with all of the acoustical issues in a room, you need a combination of digital signal processing and passive acoustical treatments. The rule of thumb is that you should strive to absorb about 20% of the reflections and scatter 25% of the reflections from the walls and ceiling. You would generally place more absorption toward the front of the room, and interleave the absorption and scattering materials.

 

That last point was one of my biggest sources of stress in helping to design this room—or at least, it’s the source of stress that stands out most in my memory. Why the stress? Because at this point in the design process, my co-conspirators—Mike, Melinda, and Marcelo—were spending most of their time talking about midcentury modern furniture, lighting sconces, draperies, throw rugs, and other floor coverings. And all I could think was, “These people are going to murder me right in my neck if I start hanging egg-crate foam on the walls.”

 

Still, if we wanted the speakers and electronics to transport attendees to other worlds (or at least more interesting corners of this world) with minimal distraction from the room’s temporary and non-traditional construction, I knew we would need some sort of acoustical treatments. So, I reached out to Anthony Grimani—former Dolby Labs and THX exec and current owner of PMI (Performance Media Industries, Ltd)—for his guidance in treating the room as best as possible without making it look like a recording studio.

Anthony Grimani explains how a diffuser works

Not only was Anthony’s advice invaluable, but his company also just so happens to manufacture exactly the sorts of treatments we needed for the room. We did go back and forth a few times on placement, trading renderings until absorbers were optimally placed to deal with first reflections on the walls and ceiling, and diffusers at the back of the room to randomize reflections into a sense of reverberations and create a more enveloping listening environment.

Even after we had the passive acoustical treatments specified and virtually placed, with instructions passed along to the booth construction company, and a followup visit scheduled by Grimani to fine tune the placements during installation, I have to admit that I was still nervous about all of this. In my final rendered sketches of the room, the treatments just sort of looked out of place. They didn’t, to my eyes, evoke the living room environment I knew everyone else on the design team was shooting for.

 

Those fears were allayed the first time I actually laid eyes on the space once it was fully constructed. And they were further allayed as the first attendees filed into the room for a demo. As the first movie clip came to an end, I heard a woman at the edge of the room lean over to a friend and whisper-yell, “I love the 3D sculptures on the walls. They’re so abstract but so pretty!” It took me a second to realize she was confusing Grimani’s diffusers for artwork.

Dennis Burger narrates a very quick tour of the demo room. (If you
look really close at the video, you’ll notice that the circles in the
ceiling are the GoldenEar Invisa 650 speakers mentioned in Pt. 3.)

Lessons learned here: Sometimes you can’t plan for every single contingency when designing a home entertainment space. Things in the real world don’t always look like they do in quick 3D sketches. But just as importantly: Don’t assume that performance-oriented design choices will necessarily conflict with décor-oriented design choices. In the end, the acoustical treatments I was so worried about wound up giving the room a funky modern vibe that worked great with the look we were going for. And if we’d had more than a few weeks to work on the design, and if we knew then what we know now, who knows? We may have even made the acoustical treatments the design focal point of the room.

 

Granted, in the real world, that means having conversations with interior designers about the benefits of acoustical treatments, their physical design, and where they need to be placed for optimal effectiveness. But ultimately, all of the pieces that come together to create a luxury entertainment space should be a collaborative—not an antagonistic—process. No necks need to be murdered in the creation of any room.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Filmworker

Two hundred years from now, the equivalent of the medieval monks—be they human, cyborg, robot, or virtual mass—will look back at this slice of time and decide Stanley Kubrick was the best American movie director and Jean-Luc Godard was the greatest filmmaker. They’ll then chuckle for a moment over the absurdity of the immense energy and emotion our culture invested in the fleeting and ultimately silly phenomenon of film, and then—assuming there’s any worth left—shift their attention to weightier things.

Or at least one can hope.

 

Leon Vitali was Kubrick’s steadfastly loyal No. 2 from the time Kubrick cast him to play, exquisitely, Barry Lyndon’s petulant nemesis Lord Bullingdon, through Kubrick’s death during post production on the unfortunate Eyes Wide Shut, and apparently up to the present. The Netflix documentary Filmworker 

Leon Vitali as Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon

seems to want to paint Vitali as somehow delusional, someone deeply oppressed, a fashionable victim. But Vitali, thankfully, won’t have any part of that.

 

Anyone who’s ever paid any real attention to Kubrick and his work is already aware of, and grateful for, Vitali’s extraordinary efforts on the director’s behalf. So why, then, try to shine a bright enough light on him that he’s seen by a broader audience of the merely curious?

 

“Masochism” would be the simplest answer. Vitali is an apt poster child for an age when everyone’s a victim and no one wants to take responsibility for their actions. And the roots of that go back farther than the current “I’m strong because I’m weak”

Filmworker

Vitali (left) with Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining

fetishism to the Soviet era and the apparatchiks, determined to obliterate all extraordinary efforts and ensure no one could ever rise above the mediocre middle.

 

So, yeah, you can feel bad about some of the hell Vitali must have gone through at his boss’s hands. But then there are those brief, tantalizing clips from Kubrick’s movies—and from Barry Lyndon in 

particular—and you realize, yeah, that’s worth whatever pain and neglect and slights and abuse it took to get there.

 

This isn’t a particularly well-made film, relying on redundancies and cliches that run completely counter to Kubrick’s whole aesthetic, a documentary more concerned with fashionable truths than The Truth. But it’s worth a look—if for no other reason than to catch a glimpse of a wilder, messier, more fruitful and forgiving age, before a vast army of J Crew models took over filmmaking, when the ambiguity of depths mattered more than the distracting glitter of the surface.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.