Demo Scene: Science Fiction Triple Feature

Here’s your chance to show clients just how much better a well-crafted home theater system can look and sound than the commercial competition.
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 Three Blockbusters to Help You Blow Away the Metroplex Experience

Over the past five years, I’ve written about a good number of my favorite demos in the pages of Residential Systems. And I’ve done my best to avoid the beaten path of big blockbuster Blu-rays, the sorts of which you’ve almost certainly been inundated with at every CES or CEDIA EXPO you’ve ever attended. But the simple fact of the matter is that a good home theater demo needs a few time warps and explosions and pew-pew laser beams to be truly successful. After all, the point is to give your clients an out-of-this-world experience, right? To take them away from the mundane normalcy of the everyday world.

But let’s face it, your garden-variety movie theater can do that, too. In an odd way, though, that actually gives you a big leg up. Chances are high that anyone who walks into your showroom has seen most if not all of the movies below on the big screen. So here’s your chance to show them just how much better a well-crafted home theater system can look and sound than the commercial competition.

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Interstellar offers the perfect chance for your viewers to gawk at near-perfect black levels.Interstellar
Best Chapter: 6

When Interstellar was released to cinemas last year, it drew near-universal praise of its themes and storyline, but near-equal derision for its sound mix, which was written off as too dynamic, too bass-heavy, with music and sound effects that drowned out the dialogue. In other words, the sound mix was simply too good for commercial cinema sound systems. I saw the film twice–once in IMAX–and have to agree that the sound designers tried too hard to pack ten thousand pounds of sound into a five-pound bag.

But that same sound mix absolutely shines on Blu-ray on a well-crafted, high-fidelity surround sound system. Chapter 6 is a perfect example of this. The scene starts–quite literally–with a bang, as the crew of the Endurance rockets toward space atop a column of flaming liquid oxygen. If every seat in the room isn’t vibrating, you’re not playing this one loudly enough. Yet, oddly enough, the dialogue that was so obscured in cinemas rings through here, not necessarily with utmost clarity, but still with plenty of intelligibility.

As the rocket enters space, the sound mix shifts, bouncing back and forth between the hustle and bustle inside the spacecraft to the silence of the vacuum outside it. This is the perfect chance for your viewers to gawk at the near-perfect black levels, and gleaming highlights and reflections so sharp they look likely to scratch your screen.

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The sound mix for Guardians of the Galaxy is luscious and expansive.Guardians of the Galaxy
Best Chapter: 2

I’m not ashamed to admit that I saw this rip-roaring space opera four times in cinemas, and I don’t remember anyone complaining about its sound mix there. But I don’t remember it sounding, or looking, anywhere near as good as it does in its Blu-ray release either. Guardians of the Galaxy–if for some strange reason you haven’t seen it yet–is a bit of an unusual flick: fantastical sci-fi settings, out-of-this-world action, and an apocalyptic plot that manages to nonetheless evoke warm and fuzzy nostalgic feelings thanks to its 1970s mix-tape soundtrack.

And director James Gunn wastes no time setting up this aesthetic. Chapter 2 begins with gorgeous spinning orbital view of the planet Morag. Its multiple moons recede into the inky blackness of space, punctuated by the gleaming glare of a sickly sun. The surface of the planet itself is a wonderland of detail, all craggy spires and inky valleys. It evokes the great old matte paintings of sci-fi films past, yet with a level of verisimilitude that never could have been captured with a paintbrush alone.

The sound mix is at first a lovely (if a bit predictable) sci-fi landscape mix: all falling rain and whooshing geysers filling the room, alongside the whiz and whir of hologram projections. Then, out of nowhere (well, actually out of the Walkman of our intrepid hero) blasts the most delicious mix of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” I’ve ever heard. It’s luscious. It’s expansive. It makes me long for a surround sound remix of the entire album.

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In the movie Gravity, the colors are lush and the visual details are staggering.Gravity: Diamond Luxe Edition
Best Chapter: 1

Chances are good that if you attended CEDIA EXPO last year, you walked away on a Dolby Atmos high. Possibly even so much so that you went ahead and rewired your demo room to show off the height channel capabilities of this amazing sound format. And if you did, chances are also good that you’ve been lamenting the dearth of decent demo material ever since. (I mean, I’m the biggest Transformers fan you’ll ever meet, and even I can barely bear to sit through more than 30 seconds of Age of Extinction).

The recent re-release of Gravity on Blu-ray is one of the first to really make the format worthwhile. But hey, even if you’re still stuck showing 5.1 demos, the disc is still no less profound. Because it really isn’t so much the shape of the sound mix that makes it so stunning, but rather its scope.

Gravity is one of the few sci-fi flicks to truly attempt to capture what it’s like for astronauts to be in space, and as such, you the viewer can only hear what the actors would hear in reality. For the first few minutes of the movie, that mostly consists of voice comms. But not to worry: the inky blacks of space offset by the gorgeous vistas of earth revolving underneath make for some amazing eye candy. The colors are lush. The details are staggering. The image is as close to perfect as any I’ve ever seen.

A few minutes into the film, as we move from wide-open space vistas to close-ups, the sound mix changes into one that’s the very definition of “felt, not heard.” Aside from dialogue, the only sounds are those of boots and gloves and power tools clanking on the Hubble Space Telescope, filtered through the dense fabric of space suits. Even without bass transducers installed under your seats, the sound is terrifically tactile. So much so that when the score kicks in to announce the impending doom of debris headed the astronauts’ way, the music consists almost entirely of guttural, bowel-tingling rumbles at first. As the music intensifies, though, so does the rest of the mix, which quickly but steadily boils over into a swirling, twirling, roller coaster ride of screams and strings and twisting metal that either surrounds you or envelops you like a bubble of chaos, depending on whether you’re Atmos-ready. Either way, this one is must hear. And feel.

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