back to article The revolution will not be televised: How Lucas modernised audio in film

The opening sequence of Star Wars is designed to give you a jolt. It's heightened by those moments after the legend "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." has faded, leaving you sitting in a silent, pitch-black cinema auditorium. Then kapow – without warning you are blinded by the iconic logo at full screen and made to …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Beg your pardon?

    Like every good director, George Lucas

    I beg to differ - he is horrible director and the dog's breakfast known as Star Wars Episode 1 is a testament to that. So is the complete and utter destruction of the pace and the action in Episode 4 after he vandalized it.

    He is a businessman and good at monetization of his wares through product placement and merchandising. Director - gimme a break.

    The best star wars movies are the ones without him - Episode V directed by Irwin Kershner and the people Fox put to do the original IV where he should have never got the credit as he was under tight control not to damage the goods.

    As far as audio, you have forgotten the Episode IV release conditions. During the first month (if memory serves me right) Episode IV was restricted to be shown ONLY in the Dolby enabled cinemas and it was the first film to fully leverage the format. The work was already done and it was not him who made the decision to force the issue and insist on the cinema having surround sound. It was Fox.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Beg your pardon?

      He may have become the merchandising monster you describe him as, but it's wrong to say he was never a good director. American Graffiti, THX 1138 and Episode 4: A New Hope.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Beg your pardon?

        Also, if the role of a director is to choose and direct the team on both sides of the camera, then Lucas getting John Williams to score the movie and going to pains to have it reproduced well in cinemas is worthy of credit.

        1. awavey

          Re: Beg your pardon?

          cough Spielberg Jaws, I think Lucas was guided to John Williams by his friends :) and btw if you think the sound is good on Eps IV, why is the ADR so obviously different to the on set sound recording, which is basically any scene involving the droids because they made so much noise on set it destroyed the actors dialogue, and any scene involving a two way conversation with Vader.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Beg your pardon?

        Howard the Duck

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Beg your pardon?

          > Howard the Duck

          One of the greatest movies ever made...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Beg your pardon?

        " American Graffiti"

        Didn't realise that was a Lucas film. It was very good and had 5 Oscar nominations. It had a feeling of being autobiographical - and IMDB seems to verify that with its nomination for "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced". Apparently three writers were credited - including Lucas.

        It seemed to set the scene for the more comedic "Animal House", "Porkies", and "American Pie".

        First novels too are often successful when they mine the author's autobiographical details.

      4. Deltics

        Re: Beg your pardon?

        A New Hope is not what Lucas wanted or intended to produce. It is the result of Fox executives telling him "No". The Phantom Menace, on the other hand, is what you get from Lucas, The Director when nobody is telling him no.

        'nuff said.

    2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

      Re: Beg your pardon?

      I feel you are being slightly harsh. Yes I agree that his latter work (including the disasters of episodes 1-3) have gone slightly awry. However, as a 7 year old kid, and even now almost forty years later I still get goosbumps whenever I hear that opening fanfare. In fact, I've never been able to listen the 20th Century Fox fanfare without hearing in my mind the opening salvo of the Star Wars fanfare slightly behind it.

      I think modern cinema owes more to George Lucas and other such technical boundary pushers such as James Cameron than they are actually given credit for. Not necessarily in terms of the stories or writing themselves, but in terms of the solutions and processes they have developed in terms of creating, shooting, lighting and scoring movies et al.

      Good on you George.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Beg your pardon?

        "I think modern cinema owes more to George Lucas and other such technical boundary pushers such as James Cameron..."

        Depends what you mean by 'modern' - to me, Lucas & Cameron are modern, and both have said that they were inspired by, and aspire to, the standards set by Kubrick.

        'Modern' cinema really started in the mid-sixties, with directors like Lindsey Anderson, Michelangelo Antonioni and, of course, Kubrick.

        Can't say I noticed any problems with the sound in 2001 either.

      2. Pedigree-Pete

        the opening salvo of the Star Wars fanfare

        Thanks Aristotles S&DH. Thank $Deity$ it's not just me and Mrs. Pedigree who do that. PP

        Of course we watched Ep IV the other night, didn't you?

    3. Kevin Johnston

      Re: Beg your pardon?

      Ah, but you seem to have missed the punctuation which very subtly separates Mr Lucas from the aforementioned Good Directors

    4. Timmy B

      Re: Beg your pardon?

      "The best star wars movies are the ones without him".

      Nah. I'll watch ep 3 over ep 7 any day off the week. The Force awakens is just a new hope retold badly with an added emo and some gender re-assignment. I am worried that ep 8 is going to be just a remake of ep 5. I've even heard they are giving Luke a stick to make him that little bit more like Yoda.

      Though as an aside I think I may have had more enjoyment out of the Rebels TV series than any of the films.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " [...] and acute viewing angles."

    There was a modern multiplex cinema with several screens - from 1000 to 24 seats. The former was usually sold out for weeks with a film chosen to be popular - the latter was for "art house" films and was rarely full.

    Two films I remember:

    The character M. Hulot in "Traffic" (1971) in the 24 seater was still funny even though the small audience size lacked the stimulus for infectious laughter.

    We finally managed to get tickets for "Bonnie & Clyde" in the 1000 seater - but only the front row was left. It was so close to the wide screen that we had to sprawl in our seats with our heads almost on the seat cushion and our legs outstretched into the front aisle. The viewing angles were acute - vertically the perspective was very strange. Horizontally it was hard to encompass all the screen width without moving your head.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      " still funny even though the small audience size...."

      If a character needs a 1000 strong audience to validate his funniness , he's probly not funny.

      a 1000 seat cinema is my idea of hell . 24 not so bad . Ideally i watch movies alone, at home where I can smoke , drink and pause it to go for a piss etc , and not have 1000 braying chimpanzies sitting behind me

    2. wayward4now

      "There was a modern multiplex cinema with several screens - from 1000 to 24 seats."


  3. Aladdin Sane

    When The Empire Strikes Back debuted in May 1982

    I think not

    1. Dabooka

      Re: When The Empire Strikes Back debuted in May 1982

      Not just me then.

      First I saw in a cinema was Jedi, on holiday in Yarmouth I believe.

  4. andy gibson

    Grandpa Simpson "Turn it up"

  5. Mage


    Better than third Star Wars outing and FAR better than the later junk.

    Fantastic sound track. Also you CAN MAKE OUT THE DIALOGUE!!!!!

    What the hell has gone wrong with Cinema. The music and effects make my ears bleed and plaster fall if loud enough for dialogue, which is STILL poor. No difference on stereo head phones, BD, Stereo HiFi or even 5.1 with decent big wooden cased speakers. (Absolutely everything on modern TVs without external amp and speakers is poorer than an old lapttop).

    It's not my ears. ALL the old stuff from 1930s to early 1990s, on VHS, Video Disk (yes I have some of those, early Star Trek) DVD etc are OK. I've no BDs yet with decent audio, as I haven't replaced any old DVDs with BD. I do gradually replace VHS with DVD.

    I stopped going to Cinema once I had DVD and decent screen + sound. Pause for toilet breaks, no annoying heads in front, better sound, no rats, MUCH cheaper food and drink.

    Actually I remember Josey Wales the Outlaw, Close Encounters, Star Wars, 50th Anniversary release Snow White. All fine sound and visuals, apart from rustling bags, people popping up & Down etc.

    1. Jay 2

      Re: Willow

      This sort of thing annoys me more at home than at the cinema. Basically many films now have a volume range of too fucking quiet at one end, too fucking loud at the other and pretty much sod-all in-between. So you have to turn up the volume to hear WTF some acting type is mumbling and then there's bound to be some loud action-oriented event which will then cause the increased volume from your TV/receiver to deafen you and make your house fall down.

      1. AdamWill


        Amplifiers are actually growing settings to cope with this effect, these days - check yours, it might have one.

      2. Charles 9

        Re: Willow

        What you're experiencing is high dynamic audio range: in this case too high for your equipment and/or your ears. It's like what high gamut did later for videos. The belief is that it's better to preserve the original range since you can adjust this later at your end. Once the range is compressed in the mastering process, you can't go back (see the discussion about the expiration of the MP3 patents).

        The solution in your case will be to check your amp for a setting called Dynamic Range Compression or DRC. This will bring up the softs and tone down the louds to put things in a more comfortable range for you.

    2. TheProf

      Re: Willow

      Totally agree with you about the audio on modern stuff. I too can watch DVDs of old TV shows, Star Trek, Doctor Who, M*A*S*H etc and hear everything the characters are saying. With modern material I mostly end-up switching on the subtitles for the hard of hearing. (I'm not deaf!)

      As for the cinema, did improvements in sound just mean everything GOT LOUDER?

      Impressed by the sounds of: helicopters flying overhead in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The litter being blown about the streets in Batman.

      Also the cinema I first saw Star Wars in had the film in focus for the whole showing. It's gone now of course.

      1. rd232

        Re: Willow

        "With modern material I mostly end-up switching on the subtitles for the hard of hearing. (I'm not deaf!)"

        Not just me then! This is the only way to both get dialogue and avoid waking up the kids during action beats (unless you ride the remote volume controls UP, DOWN, UP, oh no quick, DOWN, aargh wrong that was more UP, oh and is that crying from upstairs now?).

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: varying sound levels

          "UP, DOWN, UP, oh no quick, DOWN"

          Worst film for that - "Watchmen"

          Annoyingly I was pissing around trying to set up my newfangled 5:1 system while watching it . I thought it was me , but subsequent discussion on IMDB proved otherwise

  6. Mage

    Also Sound / Video tests.

    Most if not all THX logo on the case DVDs have a nearly invisible set up option for your screen brightness, contrast and colour (Shipped defaults are GHASTLY -- Switch off all enhancements and processing first) and for your sound system, which tells you all speakers are in correct location and DVD player / Amp is in correct mode /connections. Actually if your centre speaker has a subwoofer, you don't need a 6th amp channel and 6th speaker, it's just low frequency effects. Mathematically you actually only need four channels, but badly produced quadraphonics and three incompatible 4-channel systems in the 1970s giving "surround" a bad taint, was probably the reason to go for 5.1.

    Dolby originally was a system invented to counteract poor signal to noise/poor dynamic range. The original concept of Dolby A, B, C not needed for digital.

    1. Dave Bell

      Re: Also Sound / Video tests.

      The argument is that low-frequency sound from a sub-woofer is not very directional, the wavelength and the size of our heads, but when I set up my system for Fellowship of the Ring I had a pair of stereo speakers which were rated for a lower frequency-response than any sub-woofer I have seen. Nothing that special, just big speakers. If you have the TV set up in the middle of of a good stereo pair, you might not need the centre channel. It was the rear surround that really made the difference.

      You don't need huge speakers, but a box about the size of four hardback books is a good balance. A lot of computer speakers today are just too small, about on par with the old transistor radio.

      I worked in a noisy environment, and I probably can't hear the difference that a tweeter would make, but some pre-packed sound systems look to be all-tweeter.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Also Sound / Video tests.

        "The argument is that low-frequency sound from a sub-woofer is not very directional"

        Because you normally don't HEAR low-frequency sounds so much as FEEL them. Some of these you don't feel through the air but through the ground. That's why most setups say you don't have to aim the subwoofer towards the audience and that corner placements have an amplifying effect (two walls to shake) .

    2. TkH11

      Re: Also Sound / Video tests.

      It was long felt that the only reason Dolby but Dolby in to Dolby Stereo was so that the intellectual property was protected, and royalties... Dolby A, B, C was certainly needed on cassette tapes.

      All trademarks, patents, copyrights recognised...

    3. Tom Paine

      Re: Also Sound / Video tests.

      All that, just to watch Eastenders and Britain's Got Talent!

  7. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

    Lucas and the importance of sound

    I'm in the camp that says George Lucas was a groundbreaking director rather than a great one: others took his techniques and made much better films with them than he did, but in sound design particularly, he was a real pioneer. Lucas's early features, "THX-1138", "American Grafitti" and "Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope)" all deserve their places in the list of best films of the 1970s.

    For anyone in doubt about how far back George Lucas's understanding of the importance of audio in a film goes, have a quick skip through this, which is his student film from USC (later used as the basis for Lucas's 1971 debut feature, "THX-1138"):

    Electronic Labyrinth - THX-1138 4EB

    Okay, as a student film, this isn't just low budget; it's no budget, so it's a trying watch at times. But the thing to note is how well Lucas used the audio track. After the pre-title sequece, there's nothing that you could call "dialogue", just a layered soudscape of radio chatter that builds up over the running time to provide tension.

  8. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    As Lucas suspected, but to Holman's horror, the latter found that cinema theatres everywhere suffered from low quality sound systems and poor acoustics, not to mention badly illuminated screens and acute viewing angles.

    Had these two never been to a cinema?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Star Wars (the first one when it was just Start Wars) opened in the UK only at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road and the Leicester Square cinemas. I was there. The sound system was terrific and the screen was huge and bright. When after the titles a huge spaceship flew over I almost ducked only to be amazed by the vastly bigger cruiser chasing it that just seemed to impossibly grow and grow till it filled the screen and the roar of the engines from the rear speakers hit.

      Reading the article makes me see how lucky I was to see it in the best cinema in the country before in went on national release.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: Dominion Tottenham Court Road

        I was there too. Aged 11, it was an Xmas treat from my sci-fi mad mother for us 3 sprogs (me the eldest).

        And as you say, the sound was as mind blowing as the effects.

      2. smudge
        Thumb Up

        Star Wars (the first one when it was just Start Wars) opened in the UK only at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road and the Leicester Square cinemas. I was there.

        I saw it at the Dominion too - January 1978. I was down from Scotland for interview at either Scicon or Logica, who had offices in neighbouring streets nearby. My first time in London. With some time to kill before the overnight sleeper back north, I wandered round, and came across the Dominion. "Can I really get in to see this? Later this afternoon?".

        It was fantastic!

      3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        "Star Wars (the first one when it was just Start Wars) [...] The sound system was terrific and the screen was huge and bright. When after the titles a huge spaceship flew over I almost ducked only to be amazed by the vastly bigger cruiser chasing it that just seemed to impossibly grow and grow till it filled the screen and the roar of the engines from the rear speakers hit."

        This. I was almost twelve, and it was just fantastic.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        When after the titles a huge spaceship flew over I almost ducked only to be amazed by the vastly bigger cruiser chasing it that just seemed to impossibly grow and grow till it filled the screen and the roar of the engines from the rear speakers hit.

        .. which is why Mel Brooks' later "Spaceballs" did a good rip of it. Spaceballs wasn't wholly aligned to my sense of humour but boy oh boy did it take the piss out of some aspects, including the whole merchandise game :). It had enough moments to keep it entertaining.

      5. Tom Paine

        I was there, too - Leicester Square - and I suspect my mind was more thoroughly blown than yours because (1) I was 7, and (2) the only time I'd been to a cinema before was Bambi at the local fleapit. It was a school friend's birthday treat to go, with me and one other lucky kid. It was already the most awesome day of my life when his glamorous Mum drove us to London in a Rover P6 and hit 100mph on the M11... /then/ my first ever experience of fast food - a Wimpy - I had no idea what burgers were! - then a long queue, and I remember being awestruck by Stormtrooper dummies in some sort of shop window. Then inside, confused to find there was a B movie beforehand, and being even MORE convinced we'd walked into the wrong film by mistake when it said "Episode IV: A New Hope"; and then the opening shot... my face must have been a picture :>

        Suffice to say I was doodling spaceships in exercise books for years afterwards. Come to that, even today, when the weekly conf call gets really boring,..

        1. Tweetiepooh

          My parents relate that just after moving us to South Africa (around 68/69) they went out to a cinema in Pretoria. This was a proper fleapit with the owner showing whatever film he could get that hadn't been in the locality for a while. They were amazed that many patrons were still dressed up with furs, jewellery, suits.


          We also were in South Africa when the first Star Wars came out and that initial scene with the Williams fan fair then the essentially cowboys in space fast pace of the film. But you did have to get through lots of ads, 2 news reels and the "B" feature first but that was part of the experience.

          I think that if you did see the film in a good cinema it stuck far more than maybe the better made later films.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      >Had these two never been to a cinema?

      I suspect that UCLA film school's auditorium was slightly different to your average fleapit in Gateshead

  9. ricardian

    I stopped going to the cinema years ago. I could not stand the reek of popcorn, fried onions & burgers. Add to that the antics of the audience who were incapable of just watching the film and nott making or receiving calls on their mobile phones, opening crisp packets or chatting amongst themselves as though they were in their own front room at home.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "movie theatres to calibrate audio playback"

    40 years later and a shed more computing power in the device that plays that sound that sounds like quite a good idea.

    Still not happened AFAIK.

    One day......

  11. HCV

    "five vuvuzelas played from inside a lead-lined coffin"

    Coincidentally, the name of Guy Ritchie's next movie.

  12. Herby

    Audio? Many mixes are "lazy"!

    Many of the modern cinema audio mixes are done by lazy sound "designers". There is this silly 5.1 sound system that puts all the dialog in a single channel in the front, and rarely pans it anywhere else. Sure the "surround" stuff is nice, but only for blasting effects of car crashes and the like. One time (many moons ago) I watched a home video version (I believe it was) The Matrix. The dialog was AWFUL. There were many times when it got muddied with the LOUD effects.

    Yes, the backing track for movies IS important, but (if anyone is listening) it is a background, not what the audience primarily listens to. Get real on effects as well. Loud doesn't make it better, sometimes being subtle it the way to go.

    Of course the opening of Star Wars is great. I remember watching it on U-matic tape before it came to the video stores. I got stereo speakers there as well.

    As for 4-channel audio. Most of the time it is terrible. If you have listened to good 4-channel audio, it can be VERY good. I could go further, but that would involve around 45+ years of history on the subject.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Audio? Many mixes are "lazy"!

      I agree with you, but the films are going for realistic sound volumes.

      Have you noticed how god damn noisy we humans are?

      Pause for a moment, preferably on a nice sunny day and stop to listen to the peaceful tranq... will shut up while I try and listen to the silence!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Audio? Many mixes are "lazy"!

        Yes, we're naturally noisy. I recently spent time in an isolation booth. Easy way to start hearing ringing in your ears (because now nothing else is drowning it out).

  13. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Uphill in the snow. Both ways.

    I remember the sh*thole theater in the sh*thole backwoods illiterate racist hillbilly redneck town I grew up in started Star Wars where Vader is telling the stormtroopers to find those plans.

    The second showing it was where the star destroyer is pulling in the blockade runner.

    I didn't get to see the opening crawl until the third showing I saw.


    And the local paper had a review mentioning "jet eye knights"

    Ocala. Nuke it until it glows. I want nothing but atomic glass for 90 miles radius.

    1. wayward4now

      Re: Uphill in the snow. Both ways.

      "Ocala. Nuke it until it glows. I want nothing but atomic glass for 90 miles radius." Better yet, drop it between Ocala and Ocoee. You'll knock out 90% of the Klan.

  14. jason 7

    Can I just say...

    ...the name of the film is Star Wars...just Star Wars.

    None of this New Hope bollocks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can I just say...

      Not only that, Dabbs reverses the order, putting the "Long time ago" crawl before the fanfare, which it wasn't. Odd.

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: Can I just say...

        Watch it again. Long time ago, then fanfare, then the story so far...

  15. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    the crisp provincial multiplexes of today

    I'm hoping Dabbsie is being ironic. Or may he only goes to new build or newly refurbished multiplexes. The local ones around here have out of focus pictures and sound turned up to 12. (Yes, higher than 11)

  16. Blake St. Claire

    THX name derived?

    >While it is sometimes hinted that the "THX" name is derived from Holman's initials (plus

    >an "X" because it looks cool) sci-fi movie buffs will be aware that THX is an obvious

    >reference to Lucas's first film, THX 1138, a soporific low-budget cult dystopian slow-burner

    >from 1971

    1967. Electronic Labyrinth THX-1138 EB

    Also the license plate (number plate to you lot) on the '32 Ford Deuce Coupe in American Graffiti – THX 138 – which began filming in 1972. And one or two oblique references in Star Wars.

    So, THX derived from Holman's initials? Pipe Dream as far as I can tell.

  17. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Can I just say that the revolution will be televised. And have corporate sponsors.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The second hidden revolution was pushed by Avatar..

    .. no, no, no, slow down, not for the 3D. That was merely the sales argument.

    The real revolution was the conversion of a movie theatre to full digital reproduction. The only way a 3D movie like Avatar could be shown was by converting the movie theatre so it could play from a hard disk instead of reels of film. Sure, the theaters were sold this 3D utopia that Avatar indeed demonstrated but which has since not really been used to good effect (yes, that's an understatement), but the real revolution that quietly came along with it was that now movies could be sent to theaters as (DROm protected) files instead of rolls of film.

    In other words, with a bit intelligent use of torrenting you could globally show a movie globally only a few hours after production has finished (minus subtitles & translated speech) because so many theaters have been converted into what is basically is a powerful cousin of the kit you use to show Powerpoint/Keynote slides with at work or school.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: The second hidden revolution was pushed by Avatar..

      That depends on the network links in service at the time as well as the size of the final video file. Given they're high-resolution (they were doing 4K well before television, if you'll recall, and are pushing for 8K), high-channel files, they'll probably be pretty large (a BluRay can hold up to 100GB and most typically lean towards 50GB). Even with decent connections, downloading 50GB files one at a time is going to take some time: probably an overnight job. You could probably do it if it's planned out in advance as is typical of theatrical runs (the key would be the last thing to be sent, preventing premature screenings). If the infrastructure isn't as robust, it might be easier to post portable media in rotation to achieve the same effect.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Modernised audio? Hmm...

    I first saw Star Wars in the cinema back in 1979 and the experience was - in my unreliable memory at least - exactly as it should have been. The sound and vision were great even if the seats were small and shabby (but when you're 12, lack of legroom is rarely an issue). My local cinemas were technically pretty decent. Lest we forget, high fidelity sound reproduction did exist in the 1970s and at least some cinemas had competent technical staff who cared about providing a good audience experience.

    Mr Dabb's article is entirely right about the technical improvements in cinema audio in the years since. Certainly, cinema sound ought to be universally better now than in ye olden days.

    But you know what? I've given up on seeing films in the cinema mostly because the sound is generally so rotten. Audio is often painfully bad in the big modern multiplexes near me (the area's moderately affluent, urban, well connected, and densely populated with a fair bit of cinema competition) and I can't understand why. There's usually far too much bass, the gain's generally cranked up so high the repro system distorts horribly, and I try to forget the rest of the flaws. The experience is often harsh almost beyond endurance. No, no, I don't mind loud sound at all. I've enjoyed many Motorhead gigs. Bad sound is the problem. I shouldn't get better sound playing a DVD at home on the iMac feeding my ordinary stereo at home, but I do.

    Does anyone know what's going on? Mr Dabbs is quite right about the technology to ensure superb cinema sound being deployed from recording to theatre audio rigs. Why's it operated so badly in cinemas at least in this corner of England?

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Modernised audio? Hmm...

      That's probably down to the theaters themselves. Perhaps you should start asking some of them about THX certification and see if they're balking at the fees and so on.

    2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Modernised audio? Hmm...

      "Audio is often painfully bad in the big modern multiplexes near me (the area's moderately affluent, urban, well connected, and densely populated with a fair bit of cinema competition) and I can't understand why. There's usually far too much bass, the gain's generally cranked up so high the repro system distorts horribly, and I try to forget the rest of the flaws."

      The speakers aren't specified correctly, leading to dynamic compression and distortion. Powerful PWM amps are no substitute for efficient large speakers with the ability to play soft as well as give proper slam. To give good slam you need dynamic headroom -i.e. the maximum deliverable sound pressure need to be a lot higher than what you actually take out of them during use.

      It's just overall shoddy audio engineering today.

      I think the decline in sound started when multiplexes became the norm.

      My home setup sounds far superior to cinema audio.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    THX certification isn't just for theatres

    A guy I knew back in the 90s built a custom home with a custom home theater designed with the help of a supercomputer at Stanford (where he had moved from) and paid to have it THX certified. Why, I have no idea, but he was a radiologist who was also a PhD in computer science doing pioneering work in medical imaging, so he could afford it.

  21. jason 7

    Can I just point out also...

    ...most ordinary fleapit cinemas in the UK were still mono up until the mid 90's at least.

    So whatever improvements had been made up till that point would have gone unnoticed by most.

  22. Hurn

    2 Items

    1. The key to THX certification was the use of an HP sound analyzer similar to that used (in the 1980s) on US Submarines by "Sound Silencing" teams. The analyzer could be programmed for waveform analysis and "noise" detection on a per frequency/bandwidth basis,

    Reference tones / pink noise would be played by the film projectors

    Signals would be amplified, processed, and distributed to the speakers

    Sounds would be emitted from the speakers

    Multiple microphones / accelerometers would convert the sounds back to electrical signals, which were fed to the sound analyzer, which would check for frequency response, harmonic distortion. phase distortion (typically seen / expected at frequency crossover points), and amplitude.

    Results were then used to fine tune the equalizers / filters / amplifiers in a feedback loop - tests and adjustments would continue, until the theater was declared to be "in spec"

    Best of all, the process would be repeated at regular intervals (quarterly / semi-annually / annually), so certification resulted in a regular paycheck going to Lucasfilm / THX.

    2. Any article about theater sound systems should mention the movie "Alien". At least, in my neck of the woods, it was the first "true Dolby Stereo" movie where the stereo effect & noise reduction were truly noticeable.

    1. TkH11

      Re: 2 Items

      HP or AP ?

      I remember the Audio Precision One analyser from the 1990's.

  23. TkH11


    Lucas's determination to introduce the THX specification for cinemas was admirable, just a real shame that in the UK the number of THX certified screens has fallen greatly in number.

    The average UK cinema goer isn't clued up in technology and simply doesn't care about the quality of the audio, cinema's don't see any extra revenue from being THX certified. So they've abandoned it.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: THX

      I've heard plenty of THX Certified setups that sound awful.

  24. Big-nosed Pengie

    Decent stories and good acting make up for any amount of shite sound and bad projection.

    No amount of sound and projection engineering can make up for the fact that Star Wars is is just cheap and nasty space opera that would have worked equally well (!) in the Wild West.

    1. Charles 9

      And yet it makes a killing. How do you explain that?

  25. MarthaFarqhar

    Says it all when I went to see The Force Awakens in a THX certified screen that the colour was all over the place, focus was in and out and the sound was poor due to blown out speakers. Its alright having certification, but its like an MOT. Only fit for the day it was issued.

  26. Nick Gibbins

    "Then the Star Wars logo appears as an almost illegible glow as the projectionist continues to fiddle with the focus ring"

    Focus *ring*? There speaks someone with only the vaguest of ideas about how a projector works. Besides, every projectionist worth their salt would already have focused on the certificate.

    Also: when I saw Star Wars on first release in January 1978 (it having been released in the UK just after Christmas 1977), you couldn't hear "the hum of the cinema air conditioning, the rumble of a bus driving past and the laughter of a latecomer ordering popcorn in the lobby" over the wolf whistles and cheers at the opening credits.

  27. Gis Bun

    Still waiting for the holiday special and Ewok specials to be on Blu-ray. :-)

    [If that happens it will rain over all of the Sahara Desert for a week.]

  28. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    You were unlucky!

    I saw it in 1977, and had pretty good sound and picture.

    Actually, the film image was superior to digital projection in some ways (colours and motion).

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon