The sounds of Denis Villeneuve's Dune

Originally published at: The sounds of Denis Villeneuve's Dune | Boing Boing


funny, I had the complete opposite experience.
about a third of the dialogue in the movie is whispered, but the sound designer still had the theme melody, several layers of drone, and a voice that was the sonic equivalent of blackface except Arab over the top, ensuring that I couldn’t hear about a third of the dialogue. It completely ruined my immersion in an otherwise good movie and made me hate the sound designer with a burning passion.


I had the same experience in the theater. (also dark scenes were near pitch black) Interestingly enough I had no such issues with the home stream. I had turned the subtitles on in at home thinking I would need them but didn’t at all.


To add: this seems to be a growing trend with filmmakers drowning out dialog over vfx/music/etc (Chris Nolan is a big offender of this) with some excuse that it’s supposed to be that way. If so… Quit having actors speak in those parts. If we are supposed to enjoy that scene sans dialog, then stop expecting us to ignore lip movement.


I had no trouble hearing any of the dialogue. Now, I know the story fairly well, and Villeneuve’s version is definitely about the visual spectacle, but still. I thought the sound design was top-notch, and the theater I was in only had an (IMO) middling sound system. At home, it sounded even better. I can’t weigh in on your “sonic blackface” comment (I don’t have any family from that part of the world), except to say that I thought Hans Zimmer’s music was the best part, and I can’t imagine him intentionally being insensitive to any specific ethnic group.


I made this exact point to my buddy on the way home.

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I thought many of the sound effects and the sound design in general were all very good and appropriate for what we were watching and for the story.

That said, @akbar5656 @noahdjango I agree about this as a general problem and I did miss some lines in Dune, I’m sure). FFS let the actors be heard or just don’t bother saying the lines.

I wonder what all our ages are (cf @spetrovits ) as higher frequency hearing worsens with age. I find myself switching subtitles on far more often on the TV these days. Partly it is my hearing, I’m sure, but I am also sure it is (a) actors think it is ok to mumble these days because nobody tells them it isn’t (and far fewer have ever been on stage in a real theatre) and (b) directors are looking for effect in too many films, making the story board take priority over the actual script.


Haven’t seen the film (yet), but the husband does sound professionally and complains about “volume surfing” all the time. The mixes he does are deliberately done so you can hear dialogue, ambient sounds, whatever, without being drowned out by music, or having the music blasting inappropriately.

Also, sound is done for a specific output, 5.1 or 7.1 or stereo, and is mixed differently for each, so it’s possible that there are two different theatre mixes, and they’re different than the streaming mix.


Interesting. I find myself volume surfing with the TV quite often. They say the volume levels are the same but some sound louder - something to do with the compression. I swear they do this to the local news that comes on after the national news, to try and keep our attention.

I also wonder whether 5.1 and 7.1 etc, and cinema sound systems have somehow been designed with insufficient high end / higher frequency sound reproduction (treble, as we used to call it). The advent of Dolby all those years ago seemed to focus very much on the bass and it only seems to have got worse in that respect as the number-soup of sound systems has evolved.

They ought to make sound guys wear ‘old person’ filters when they are mixing! :wink:


tell him I says “THANK YOU!”

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sure, ok, but instead of buying into this line of reasoning, I feel it’s more important to note that I never had any difficulty understanding a single syllable of dialogue in Lynch’s Dune, and the current version was made specifically to usurp that version.

but yeah, I’m middle-aged; 47.

edit: I assume part of the problem is something like confirmation bias. nobody involved in the production (editor, sound designer, mixer, director) is able to catch these problems because they all already know what the dialogue is. to them, mumbling, whispers, and any other sounds layed over is only a way of following along with the script they’ve already read or the vocal tracks they’ve already listened to without any mixing. it sounds fine because they already know what is being said.

I wonder if the sound designer had given the finished mix to another SD whom the Dune SD considered competent as a check, what sort of notes he would have received. or get one of those people that live-types closed captions to do a run-through of his finished mix.

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47 is a bit young to be losing that much higher frequency hearing. (Try being in your sixties!)
But did you watch Lynch’s version recently? You are almost certainly correct, though.
Either way, it is a problem that has worsened in recent years and yes they really ought to get an unfamiliar SD to review and feed back.
It is surprising these things get through the test screenings without such feedback, too.

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@akbar5656 @noahdjango @anothernewbbaccount @spetrovits @marence @garethb2

To all contributing so far I am very much on board with the lack of voice clarity in modern films.

No, it’s not about aging as voice recognition is one of the most important of human experiences.

This promo video for the film is telling in so far as the sound design department and sound designers in general seem to live in a world of ‘sound should be a simulacra of the real world’. Sound designers in my opinion should tune their ears more to the poetic nature of the film music composer and justify every choice with regard to the narrative/story… I can’t believe that an audience that is listening and hearing a film actually gives a shit about how the dragonfly ‘helicopters’ have been dragged into our real understanding of what real insects sound like.

Cinematic storytelling is poetic and not prosaic… Yes I want to hear wind and reverb in a desert if it meshes with the drama or comedy, not an absence because some sound nerd thinks it’s un-realistic.

I love the power of music and sound in film but get so aggravated by the myopic (pun intended) attitude of many sound designers that prefer the “real” nature of sound:


I can believe the opposite, which does make what they are doing here important. If the ornithopters had sounded like cows mooing, or train klaxons, that would have been jarring and would have distracted from the suspension of disbelief the makers of a film need for the audience to enjoy it. Yes those are dumb and extreme examples. But if more realistic sounds had been used but still the machines had sounded ‘off’, it would have had a similar distracting effect. So I have no problem with what they did in terms of sound effects and the technical effort and creative artistry they put into getting it right. They did such a good job that I did not notice it - which is exactly as it should be.

But none of that precludes making voices clear and audible. Even a mumbling actor can be made audible with the correct sound recording set-up.

As an aside, it reminds me of a documentary (talking head on various locations) I saw recently where the talking head sometimes sounded muffled (even when the person she was talking to did not) and sometimes didn’t, depending on the shot. Then I realised she was wearing a scarf in the muffled shots. The sound recordist had clearly not bothered to monitor the recording - how else could they not have noticed the talking head had put a scarf on over her microphone? Rank incompetence - but it seems that the levels of professionalism and capability to record and then mix clear vocal audio tracks are ever more lacking.


I guess this is why I re hashed this text book example of sound design from ‘Raging Bull’, This is so dense in technique yet the voice is so clear as the sound mixer dances between silence and elephant sounds and lion roars.

I believe that the sound designer becomes the most interesting artist in cinema production when they dance between being heard and not heard.


See, there’s where it’s a matter of taste. I’m an acoustician, I know how sound works, and it takes me right out of a scene when two characters are in an environment where they would be required to shout just to be heard, and they’re having a conversation in normal tones. To me, De Niro saying “You never got me down, Ray” in a normal speaking voice, and him being completely audible and intelligible, sounds ridiculous in that context. Then again, I don’t have much tolerance for overly stylized sound work, like animal sounds thrown in over the mix or whatever. Hearing background noise fade in and out in an effort to make dialogue more intelligible sounds weird to me. I’d rather the production account for what the background noise levels would be like, and have the actors speak accordingly. That way, even if they have to rejigger the soundscape during post, they’ve got the speech lines that sound like the actors were in the scene, and not in a recording booth. Yes, we’re talking about a weird, dense, sci-fi epic. In my opinion, realistic sound design is even more vital in that kind of movie. You’re already suspending a lot of disbelief. You should believe what you’re hearing.


Thanks for your responce.

For me the very mechanics of editing one shot to another, montage, which shifts the audience point of view through space with continuity in one frames time 1/24sec and can be perceived as continuity suggests that Cinema space is never real and always constructed.

The use of any sfx like adding reverb and compression to a voice is always simulating an artificial space.

Interestingly the overloading of microphones when a car door was closed in early cinema, that reassuring “ca-chunk” lead automotive manufacturers to mechanically build in this sound to their car doors to give a perception of weight… life imitating art.

A radio announcer or podcaster can lean into a a mic and utilize the ‘proximity’ effect to give their voice bass and presence.

All rerecorded sound is artificial by nature so it’s always a vague interpretation of a generalized idea of the taste of the engineer of what works for the audience of their sound design.

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Of course, I understand that film is constructed, and that recorded sound is artificial. But it doesn’t have to sound like it is. I just tend to prefer more realistic sound design in film. The funny thing is, I prefer listening to highly produced music over recordings of live music where you can hear the audience and venue. I guess the visual aspect of film makes me want a sound design that more accurately resembles what I’d actually hear in that space.

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Didn’t mean to patronise… Sometimes it’s worth stating the obvious to bring more into a discussion:

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