Ready Player One Tag

Mortal Engines

On paper, Mortal Engines seems like a can’t-miss film. It’s an adaptation of the well-received Young Adult novel of the same name by Philip Reeve, comes from a screenplay by the writing team behind the epic The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, including Peter Jackson, and included a trailer with striking visuals. But with mostly weak reviews, scoring a meager 26% on Rotten Tomatoes (audiences were slightly more kind with a 56% rating), and a paltry $16 million box office take in the US and Canada, this Engine was perhaps a little too Mortal.

 

But I’m not one to let a bad review dictate what I’ll watch, and my faith in Peter Jackson was enough to have me eager to give this a view at home. As is often the case recently, ME was released on digital download a full three weeks before the disc version, so I downloaded the film from the Kaleidescape store in 4K HDR.

 

There are, of course, three ways to approach a movie based on a popular book: Read it before, read it after, or don’t read it at all. With The Hunger Games trilogy, I devoured the books prior to watching the movies, and this built a lot of anticipation for the films, which didn’t disappoint, IMO. With Ready Player One, I was inspired to read the book after watching, and felt that while the two works were markedly different in many respects, they both worked for their medium. My wife started reading ME but the story didn’t grab her, so I went into the film knowing very little.

 

The 128-minute movie starts off with just a bit of exposition to explain how mankind arrived at its current state. Some untold number of years ago—enough for people in our time period to be referred to as “the ancients”—a 60-minute war involving a Quantum energy weapon known as MEDUSA effectively destroyed most of the world, bringing humanity to the edge of extinction. Out of the toxic remnants, a new age arose—the age of the great predator cities of the west. Of these cities, one of the largest is London, which roams around the Great Hunting Grounds of continental Europe practicing a philosophy known as “Municipal Darwinism,” where large cities on immense treads hunt down, ingest, and dismantle smaller cities for food, fuel, and any salvaged technology that can be repurposed.

 

Within the first 10 minutes you’re introduced to the main players which include Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), who is out to avenge her mother’s killer; Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan of recent The Umbrella Academy fame), a historian who gets (literally) kicked off the London and is forced to bond with Hester to survive; and Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving from The Matrix and the Hobbit and Rings trilogies), London’s power-hungry head science engineer who is searching for old-tech in order to secure a new power source for London’s future and oppose the anti-traction league, a group of static cities that sit protected behind a giant shield wall.

Mortal Engines

The film’s opening scene is action packed, as the enormous London chases, captures, and ingests a smaller city. The film has massive scope, scale, and world building, with convincing CGI that shows how something on the scale of London-on-tracks would function from a technical level, and makes it appear these giant tracked cities are actually driving around. I’m not sure to what extent the sets were of practical design versus created inside a computer with CGI, but the visuals are impressive, presenting these immense mobile locations that drive around carving out huge ruts in the land with their enormous tracks. Some of my favorite parts of the film were just admiring the inner-working and design of London.

 

The film was shot in Redcode RAW at 8K and the home release is taken from a 4K Digital Intermediate and looks terrific.The film is a feast for the eyes, and items have terrific texture and detail. Whether it is the fabric in actors’ clothing, the various states of disrepair on walls and items around the very Steampunk-inspired London, or the multiple bits of machinery, ME offers tons of detail in every frame. There are several closeups where you can see the individual strands of hair on an actor’s head.

 

The film spends almost equal parts in dark and light environments, and HDR is used to good effect throughout to produce images that pop with detail. London at night, various searchlights piercing the darkness, and various lights and gauges inside cockpits all retain deep, rich black with appropriately bright highlights. The fires inside London’s engine room also particularly benefit from the HDR color grading.

 

Sonically, ME is the stuff home theater owners live for. The bass is big and weighty, carrying the proper amount of heft for something the size of London driving around and smashing into things. There are also a lot of textural sounds—engines thrumming, gears turning, cables moving—giving life to scenes. Sound effects have tons of directionality, putting the full soundstage to use to create an immersive experience. Dialogue also remains clear and intelligible throughout, even in the big action pieces, something some recent films have been missing.

 

My only complaint with the audio is that the Kaleidescape digital download didn’t include the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, instead having a 5.1-channel DTS-HD mix. For a movie with such a dynamic and textured soundtrack, I’d love to hear how this sounded in a full Atmos mix. Of course, the blame here lies with NBC Universal, which for some reason refuses to provide Kaleidescape with the immersive audio mix for any of its films in 4K HDR. Here’s hoping that gets resolved at some point in the near future, at which point anyone who has already purchased the film would be able to re-download it with the new audio track at no charge.

 

While not perfect, and a bit light on plot, I found Mortal Engines engaging and entertaining, and it definitely looks and sounds fantastic on a proper system. 

John Sciacca

Mortal Engines

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.

Online Movies Audio Face-off, Pt. 2

Online Movies Audio Face-off, Pt. 2

In Part 1, I wondered if you could hear any differences in Dolby Atmos surround sound on the various movie streaming services and movies downloaded from Kaleidescape, and decided to do a comparison between Vudu, Apple TV, and Kaleidescape to find out.

 

After an afternoon of listening tests, here are my results.

 

I have a pretty high-end audio system, consisting of the new Marantz AV8805 flagship preamp/processor, two Marantz seven-channel amplifiers, and a 7.2.6-channel speaker configuration that includes Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L tower

speakers, a Definitive Trinity Signature Reference sub, and an SVS SB-16Ultra sub. I watched all of the movies at the same volume setting: -15 dB.

 

For source material, I used my Kaleidescape Strato to handle the Dolby TrueHD audio on movies downloaded from the movie store, a Microsoft Xbox One S to stream content from Vudu, and an Apple TV 4K to play movies from the Apple Store.

 

I mined my movie collection to find multiple titles I owned across all three services that featured Dolby Atmos soundtracks. This allowed me to cue up the scenes on all three devices and fairly quickly listen to each scene in the different formats.

I watched a number of scenes from six films I’m familiar with: Ready Player One, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Gravity, Venom, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. After A-B-C’ing each scene multiple times, I can definitively say two things: 1) the TrueHD audio mix always sounded better, and 2) audio from the Apple TV 4K sounded substantially quieter and more compressed.

 

By far the most readily noticeable audio differences were in the low frequency range. Consistently, film after film, scenes with low-frequency activity were far more dynamic and impressive in TrueHD. The low end had more physical impact, producing frequencies I could feel, as well as pressure waves that rattled doors and windows.

 

The opening “Bell Bottoms” scene from Baby Driver is a perfect example, where the bass notes in the song were thin and indistinct with the Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) on Apple TV and Vudu, and the shotgun blasts had little weight. With TrueHD, the bass was articulated, and the shotgun plumbed far lower and louder.

 

The bass-heavy Blade Runner 2049 also offered multiple scenes that showcased the superiority of the TrueHD soundtrack. The pistol Deckard uses in his fight with K in old Vegas had far more impact, as did the rushing water, thunder, and air vehicles flying at the pump station. The fantastic Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer soundtrack also sounded richer, producing notes that were more musical and real, with better tone and decay.

 

Textural sounds also had far more dimension and realism with TrueHD. The first challenge race from Ready Player One was a perfect example, featuring a lot of different vehicles with unique-sounding engines. The multi-layered sounds of the engines, crashes, crunches, and explosions had more detail and separation, being less distinct in the DD+ version. The motorcycle chase in Venom exhibited this same sonic loss in DD+, as with the sounds of the drones flying, or the details of bullets striking. It was similar with the crunching and thrashing from the hippo attack in Jumanji.

 

As mentioned above, the audio levels on Apple TV were significantly lower across every film—often 10 dB or more. This was obvious on everything, but especially noticeable on Gravity, where the opening dialogue chatter between Stone and Houston was virtually inaudible, making it completely unintelligible when played at the same levels as the Vudu and Kaleidescape versions.

 

Even with volume levels raised to compensate, the Apple versions of the films just seemed far more compressed, lacking dynamic range. This was similar to what I experienced on the Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour streamed from Netflix, making me wonder if there is some issue with the way the Apple TV 4K handles Atmos audio. 

 

Now, while the TrueHD mix was definitely better, that doesn’t mean the streamed mix was bad. Just not as good. This was especially noticeable when played back to back, where the TrueHD audio had a wider, airier, more natural presentation. Outdoor scenes like in the jungles of Jumanji just felt more open and like you were in the actual environment, while the DD+ audio felt more centered on the screen.

 

For luxury cinema owners who’ve invested in getting the best experience possible, there are definite, noticeable audio improvements to be had by purchasing content in the lossless format.

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.

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.