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Scores Over Crashes

Home theater's emotional impact can be as impressive as the visceral ones.

Between CES, ISE, and some individual site visits, I have been treated to quite a few spectacular home theater demonstrations lately. The quality of each was impeccable, as expected, but what was unexpected was my reaction to the content being used in the demos.

I’ve seen countless demos using bits of films like Transformers where larger-than-life characters duke it out in a smorgasbord of sound effects placed precisely around the room. I love those kinds of movies, so the brief bits I get to see and experience are always appreciated, and do provide the wow factor of feeling the sound as it vibrates my eardrums (and my chest, and my stomach…).

However, my last two demos, in addition to the previously mentioned sci-fi slugfests, also included scenes from the hit musical The Greatest Showman. To my surprise, I found the musical demonstrations to be more moving than the explosive ones. Not just moving of the body parts from force of sound, but also moving in a dramatic way — the home theater draws you in and lets you experience the musical scenes exactly as they were intended.

I am not talking concert films here; I think the key here was that the music in these scenes were integral to the story, asking the viewer to do more than just listen, but to feel the emotion behind the song.

In the first demo, it was the opening scene of the movie, all shadows and full of anticipation. The background singers start with their “oooooh”s, and then the slam of Barnum’s cane followed by a few seconds of silence. Thump! Hugh Jackman begins singing low, but not soft, and the crowd stomps on the bleachers take the place of the cane — each thump landing right where it should thanks to the subs. It was riveting.

The next demo used a different scene — the one where Jenny Lind sings “Never Enough” to the elegant crowd inside a concert hall. The demo system creates the dynamics of the hall as Jenny plaintively tries to reach the crowd, and we see them accept her as the song builds to a crescendo — including Barnum, who needs this badly to gain some respectability among the wealthy. Again, the high-quality audio makes the scene, and pulls you in deeper to the story.

I’ve seen the film, so no context was needed for me. I’m not sure the results would be the same for someone coming in cold, and would be anxious to hear his/her impression. Fighting robots always work — maybe dramatic musical scenes would, too. With the success of films such as Showman and A Star is Born, I am sure there will be plenty of high-impact musical options to experiment with.

However, all that said, I hope to see plenty of CEDIA Expo 2019 demos featuring Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse — that movie has a fantastic visual style that will kill on 4K screens and is matched with an equally dazzling sound design.

I’m available for screenings if anybody has a system to test…