In Part 1 of this blog, we took a look at five films that are great for demonstrating home theater surround systems: Apocalypto, Aviator, House of Flying Daggers, Letters From Iwo Jima, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Here are five more we’ve found to be crowd pleasers and disks that you can also use in assessing surround sound speaker system performance.
6. The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow’s academy award-winning film The Hurt Locker is a brilliantly executed piece of work and on many different levels.
Recommended Chapters (untitled in this film): Chapters 3, 4, 8, and 9.
• In Chapters 3 – 4, the sound designer uses small, well-focused sonic details to convey shifting points of view, while using occasional abrupt loud sounds almost like sonic “seasonings” to add emphasis. Listen, for example, to sounds of breathing and the lightly distorted, electromechanical sound of Sergeant James’ voice as heard from inside his bomb disposal suit, which conveys a strange mixture of tension and inner calm. Note, too, the hard, sharp explosive sounds first of the smoke grenade going off, and later of a series of rounds being fired from Sergeant James’ 9mm Beretta. These act as markers that show the situation is, in truth, balanced on a knife’s edge line between life and death—a line that the members of James’ EOD bomb disposal unit must walk every day.
As the scene unfolds, James works to disarm what at first appears to be a single IED (Improvised Explosive Device), but which soon turns out to be a far more complicated threat involving multiple buried explosive devices. Listen to the quiet, sharp intake of breath as James realizes how complicated the bomb really is. Then, note the masterful race against the clock that ensues as we hear James hastening to disarm not one but six linked explosive shells, his hands and cutting tool moving swiftly yet oh-so-carefully, while at the same time we hear the footsteps of a terrorist clambering down the stairs of an adjoining building in hopes of detonating at least some of the devices before James can finish disarming them.
• In Chapters 8 – 9, we follow Sergeant James, Sergeant Sanborn, and Specialist Eldridge on a terrifying and deadly emotional “roller coaster” ride as they encounter—in the open Iraqi desert—what at first appears to be a group of heavily armed insurgents (high tension), then discover the group is actually a British unit (momentary humor and relief), only to be attacked by a real, though at first unseen, group of insurgent forces (even higher tension). We trace the wrenching emotional shift and turns by listening, primarily, to the edges in the soldiers’ voices, which become razor sharp as tensions mount, relax into momentary warmth and humor as the first apparent threat passes, and then are ratcheted almost beyond the breaking point as an even worse threat manifests itself Again, both small and large-scale sonic details are used liberally to add comment that reveals the true emotional tenor of the events as they unfold.
Three great examples would be the deceptively quiet but deadly “Thwack!” of an Iraqi sniper’s bullet striking down one of the British soldier as the attack begins, or the frenetic chaos of gunfire and explosions that ensue, revealing, in compelling surround sound, the fact that the allies at first have no idea where their attackers are located.
But perhaps the most telling sequence of all unfolds as Sanborn and his Iraqi counterpart engage in a sniper’s duel at a range of roughly 850 meters. After a back-and-forth exchange of shots, Sanborn fires what will prove to be the decisive round. When this happens, time seems to slow down as the sound director forces our attention to the strangely musical, tinkling, chime-like sound of Sanborn’s spent shell casing bouncing—in slow motion--off of some rocks, even as the bullet speeds downrange toward its target. We know, even before we see the outcome onscreen, that the terrorist will be struck down, as the almost surreal clinking of the shell casing continues and the musical score becomes progressively more ominous. It is almost as if the director is saying, “on the turn of such small, innocuous sounds at these, one man perishes while another one lives to fight another day.” It’s a hugely powerful scene.