Usually, going to the movies is something I try to avoid. The whole experience is a hassle on so many different levels. The trip, the lines, the sticky floors, the ticket costs… why would I need to see something immediately if it’s just going to be on Netflix in a few months?
However, all of these reservations go out the window when it comes to horror movies. I set aside these inconveniences for the chance to see a good old, jump-out-of-your-seat film. Maybe it’s the ambiance, the sound systems, or the picture quality, but there’s something about seeing a scary story on the big screen that’s much more thrilling than watching it at home. So, when the highly-anticipated A Quiet Place finally came to Boston theaters, I reserved my tickets online and made sure to show up early to pick a prime seat.
As soon as the movie started, though, I knew I made the wrong choice. Not in seat selection—but in theater selection.
Although the screen was big, the seats were plush, and the surround sound was in working order, this theater had its annual musical film festival playing right next door to where I was. What did this mean for the viewing experience? Here’s an example of what happened (don’t worry there are no spoilers ahead):
John Kasinski’s character hears a rustle nearby.
He hears another rustle, and raises his hand to tell his family to stay still.
Viewers are on the edge of their seat and—
[WEST SIDE STORY’S “I FEEL PRETTY” BLARES THROUGH THE WALL NEXT DOOR]
The quality of this film was completely ruined not by poor acting or directing (both are actually quite good), but by the theater itself! Could this be happening at other places? It’s possible. If issues like this arise in a theater, then something didn’t go right—either with the design, construction, or even establishing incorrect goals for acoustical considerations. With that in mind, I talked to Ben Markham, the Director of Acentech’s Architectural Acoustics Group who offered some insights on how to avoid and mitigate sound isolation issues in theaters.
- Start with a good design, including double wall construction, informed by requirements from THX and other cinema industry standard bearers.
- Think about how sound might get AROUND the wall that has been designed. Are there pipes or ducts that go through it? Are there floor slabs or other assemblies that transmit sound around it? These “flanking paths” must be addressed in a manner consistent with the sound isolation goals.
- Consider the source. How are loudspeakers mounted, and where are they located? When speakers (subwoofers especially) are to be mounted on potentially sensitive walls, floors, or ceilings, they can be mounted resiliently, mitigating structureborne sound transmission.
Theater design is a crucial element to virtually any typical cinematic experience. A Quiet Place, however, is anything but typical. This film’s power does not come from screaming starlets, epic explosions, or guttural roars from slimy, nightmarish creatures. The suspense is generated from of the lack of dialogue and sound. Although these issues may not have been as noticeable during other film screenings, the nature of the film I saw ironically amplified these sound isolation concerns.
So, if you’re going to see A Quiet Place, how can you see it on the big screen without the problems I encounted?
- Go to a single-screen theater. No other screens in the building means fewer sound sources to interrupt the experience!
- Call ahead and ask if they’ve had complaints from people who saw the movie. Trust me, there were plenty of people talking to the ushers about the viewing experience after the credits started to roll.
- See what else they’re playing. If it’s less likely to have a blockbuster action movie playing next door, you might be less likely to run into problems.
- Accept the possibility of sound bleed and try to enjoy it anyway. Sometimes, knowing about an issue beforehand can help adjust expectations about your experience at the theater.
Of course, you could always wait for Redbox or Netflix. But then again, if you’re a horror movie fanatic like me, that might not be an option!