We understand — theoretically, at least — that movies have more oomph when it’s an immersive experience. But though we all have familiarity with the various director cuts of films floating around, we tend to think less of how films play differently thanks to specialized equipment. But Manhattan cinephiles are about to get a big lesson in just that with the launch of the Paris Theater’s “Big and Loud” series.
A hothouse combination of classic cinema and popcorn entertainment, the series hopes to marry a nostalgic, historic setting with Dolby Atmos to make even beloved films a new discovery. Dolby Atmos allows filmmakers and sound designers the opportunity to strategically position specific sounds to come from anywhere in a film auditorium; the newly renovated Paris Theater has accepted that challenge and created the largest Atmos cinema in Manhattan. The Netflix theater’s team spent four months working with Dolby, an acoustician, and two systems integrators to create a movie theater that isn’t just a picture palace but provides a customized, filmmaker-approved wash of sound in every seat in the house. In the selections for its 23-film reopening series, the Paris is emphasizing sound as a force as potent as the image when it comes to storytelling.
In addition to showing an exciting selection of 70mm prints, the Paris will screen some “audio-obsessive” movies, like “La Ciénaga,” “Blow Out,” and “The Conversation,” along with true sonic experiences like “Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé,” “Miss Americana,” and “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco.” But while the opportunity to see Gene Hackman parsing distorted audio in the Francis Ford Coppola classic is irresistible, the Paris’ Atmos setup allows for movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” to be experienced in an even more immersive way; sound gets to be not just big and loud but cutting and specific, guiding us to look at the right thing onscreen and feel the right way about it.
The innovation of Dolby Atmos over the decades-old surround sound has to do with the positionality of where the sound can come from. When designing the monster for “Nope,” Johnnie Burn leaned into Atmos’ ability to make us feel the sound of the monster as a presence, even and especially when we can’t see it.
“Obviously (the sound mix) has to work on a phone and a laptop and in a stereo format. For those mixes, we spent a lot of time repositioning everything and attenuating the base levels so that the mix would play correctly, but the primary mix was the Dolby Atmos mix. Purely because there’s so many opportunities to have sound coming from above in this movie,” Burn told IndieWire.
Like “Nope,” Atmos DCPs (digital cinema packages) of films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Blade Runner” — the Paris is showing both in their Final Cut forms — can create truly physical senses of even the most far-flung or imagined places. For “Roma,” the Paris is showing both a 70mm print with a six-track DTS (digital theater sound) and a digital version with Atmos sound. The latter showcases every nuance of supervising sound editor Sergio Diaz’s Mexico City soundscape, bursting at the seams with all the lives being lived around and in parallel to the film’s main family.
There are many reasons to see a film at the Paris Theater — sound that you can feel is just the latest one.
The Paris Theater’s “Big and Loud” series begins on September 1.