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Movies & TV

09th Aug 2023

Oppenheimer is difficult to hear on purpose, according to movie’s director

Stephen Porzio

oppenheimer sound issues

If you had trouble hearing certain lines of dialogue in Oppenheimer, you are not alone.

While it has not been as big a box office hit as its competitor Barbie, Christopher Nolan’s latest directorial effort Oppenheimer has been a rousing success.

Made for a reported budget of $100 million, the movie has so far grossed over $560 million – becoming the ninth-highest-grossing film of 2023 so far.

This is something all the more impressive given the movie is a three-hour long historical drama, a genre that in the era of superheroes and other blockbuster sequels is far from a guaranteed safe bet.

On top of this, Oppenheimer has garnered near unanimous praise from critics – receiving a 93% Rotten Tomatoes score – and currently seems incredibly likely to score a handful of Oscar nominations next year, including for Cillian Murphy for his lead turn as the ‘father of the atom bomb’.

oppenheimer sound issues

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer

One aspect of the movie though that has proved divisive is its sound, with some reviewers and audience members reporting that they struggled to hear certain lines of dialogue in the film.

Oppenheimer is not the first work by Nolan to be hit with such complaints, with The Dark Knight Rises and Tenet receiving similar criticism.

And now, in an interview with Insider, the writer-director has addressed these quibbles – attributing them to two different factors.

One of these is the fact that Nolan likes to shoot his movies with IMAX cameras. While these are renowned for providing greater image quality than other cameras, they are noisy.

That said, the filmmaker told Insider that IMAX cameras are getting better in this aspect, explaining:

“There are certain mechanical improvements and actually, IMAX is building new cameras right now which are going to be even quieter.

“But the real breakthrough is in software technology that allows you to filter out the camera noise. That has improved massively in the 15 or so years that I’ve been using these cameras. Which opens up for you to do more intimate scenes that you would not have been able to do in the past.”

Despite this, however, Nolan stated that you still need to “choose your moments” for filming with the IMAX cameras.

For instance, he decided against using the 15 perf-70mm camera on account of its noise for the pivotal, dialogue-driven scene in his latest movie whereby J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy) meets President Harry S. Truman (Gary Oldman).

oppenheimer sound issues

Christopher Nolan speaks about Oppenheimer sound issues

Another reason for the divisive sound mix in Nolan’s work is the fact that the director prefers not to use ADR (automated dialogue replacement).

A very common practice in movie and TV making, this is when actors re-record dialogue after filming to improve audio quality or make changes to what was originally scripted.

Explaining his aversion to ADR, the director told Insider: “I like to use the performance that was given in the moment rather than the actor re-voicing it later, which is an artistic choice that some people disagree with and that’s their right.”

Nolan’s distaste for automated dialogue replacement is similar to his preference for practical effects over CGI (computer-generated imagery).

In a recent interview with Wired, the filmmaker said: “I find CGI, however versatile it is, always tends to feel a little safe to me.

“I think if you want something to have a bit of bite, you want the imagery to gave a bit of threat, even if it’s a miniature, even if it’s something very fake, putting something real on camera, I think it gives you a better result.”

Meanwhile, you can check out JOE’s interview with Nolan for Oppenheimer right here:

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