'Brave' premiere debuts Dolby Atmos system: Is '3-D sound' better than 3-D cinema?

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Image Credit: Robert Mora

When Dolby took on the theater naming rights to the famed Hollywood venue that was once known as the Kodak, the audio technology company understood that it had a golden opportunity to showcase its brand new “Atmos” acoustic system. Currently employed in 14 theaters in North America, the state-of-the-art system can pump up to 128 separate channels into a single theater, creating a soundscape of unprecedented detail.

So how do bagpipes sound on it?

That was the question hovering in the air (literally!) at Monday night’s premiere of Disney-Pixar’s distaff Celtic animated adventure Brave in the Dolby Theater, the first time Dolby Atmos was put into practical use. Ironically one of the few films ever to debut inside the permanent home of the Academy Awards, Brave was mixed by Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom specifically with the Dolby Atmos system in mind. The theater has been equipped by Dolby with 164 speakers, although with so little time to install the system (Dolby says its team did it in under 48 hours), form at times took a distant second to function. Two ungainly struts hung from the ceiling supported 22 speakers each, with thick cables stretching from them to the Dolby Theater’s second balcony.

The sound those speakers generated, however, was most impressive — at least, the few times I really noticed it. When the film’s heroine, the feisty red-haired archer princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), raced on her trusty steed through the thick Scottish forest, the rush of the trees sounded eerily real, like the leaves were whooshing by just a few inches from my ears. Later, when Merida took shelter from the rain under a makeshift fort, the pitter-patter of the rainfall felt like it was right on top of me.

Mostly, however, I was simply too engrossed by the film to take much note of the sound. And that’s as it should be. Cinema technology works best when it pulls you further into the story rather than calling attention to itself, and on that score, Dolby Atmos sounded like a thundering success.

Besides, Dolby’s crafted a fine exhibition of the technology’s abilities itself, with a roughly 60-second CG animated sequence that played before the film, tracing a single helicopter seed as it wended its way to the ground while the chirps and roars and rustles and splashes of the forest echoed in the theater all around us. It was a feast for the ears. In fact, in its way, Dolby Atmos was a better three-dimensional experience than visual stereoscopic 3-D, for the simple reason that I didn’t need any clunky earphones to comprehend it.

Check out a list below of all the theaters that will be playing Brave using the Dolby Atmos system:

• AMC BarryWoods 24 (Kansas City, MO)
• AMC Burbank 16 (Burbank, CA)
• AMC Century City 15 (Century City, CA)
• AMC Downtown Disney 24 (Lake Buena Vista, FL)
• AMC Garden State 16 (Paramus, NJ)
• AMC Van Ness 14 (San Francisco, CA)
• ArcLight Sherman Oaks (Sherman Oaks, CA)
• Brenden Theatres at the Palms (Las Vegas, NV)
• Century at Pacific Commons and XD (Fremont, CA)
• Cinemark West Plano and XD (West Plano, TX)
• SilverCity-Yonge Eglington Cinemas (Toronto, ON)
• Cinetopia Vancouver Mall 23 (Vancouver, WA)
• El Capitan Theatre (Hollywood, CA)
• Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection (Chicago, IL)

Read more:
The Oscars home is now the Dolby Theatre, and it will be until at least 2033
Kodak ends naming deal with Hollywood Theater

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