• “Under Attack” is a classic naval battle scene, where the thunderous roar of cannon fire and the sounds of splintering woodwork and of rigging being shredded are contrasted against the quiet intensity of the ship’s surgery below decks, where Dr. Stephen Maturin (a degreed physician and not merely a common ship’s “surgeon”) tends to the wounded. Note that few subwoofers can really do justice to the sound of the cannon fire, which actually goes to lower frequencies (and at louder levels) than most subs can handle. On really first-rate systems, the sounds of battle are very intense and dynamic, though in most systems you’ll encounter at least some degree of compression (which, frankly, isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it probably saves equipment from self-destruction and keeps neighbors from appearing on your doorstep with pitchforks in hand…). The HMS Surprise does not fare well in its battle with the French privateer Acheron and appears doomed when its rudder is shot away, until “Lucky Jack” Aubrey comes up with a makeshift plan of escape.
• “Lucky Jack’s Gambit” shows Aubrey ordering his gun crews to man the Surprise’s lifeboats and to row for all they are worth to try to tow the rudderless ship into the nearby fogbank (thus blocking it from the Acheron’s view). We hear the furious exchange of cannon fire between the ships as the Acheron, which had sailed past the Surprise during the battle, has turned and is closing fast from behind. Battle sounds are contrasted against the quieter, but no less urgent, sounds of sailors’ labored breathing as they man the oars of the lifeboats or labor to turn the crank handles of hand-powered bilge pumps. Fortunately, Aubrey’s gambit pays off, as the Surprise is pulled into the fogbank just before the Acheron comes within range. The narrowness of Aubrey’s escape is dramatized, however, by a spectacular sound effect where we hear one last cannon ball from the Acheron come sizzling directly overhead, tearing through the sails of the Surprise as it flies past.
In Part 2 of this blog, we’ll look at five more great films for demonstrating home theater surround sound systems: Open Range, The Hurt Locker, The Rundown, Sherlock Holmes, and The Strangers. Until then, may superb home theater experiences be yours.
In the spirit of “sharing the wealth,” I’d like to encourage blog readers to suggest and describe other films (and specific scenes in those films) that they’ve found make good surround system demo pieces.
There are many more great ones besides the ten I’ll describe in these blogs, so please let us hear from you.