Those who know me well know that I am a huge fan of the Marvel franchise, and especially the films connected to it. The most recent film, Thor: The Dark World, completely lives up to my high expectations. On a technical level, the film has some flaws – but they are things that only a Sound Professional would notice. If I were to remove my Sound Engineer hat, I have to say the film is epically awesome. It’s not necessarily my favorite story of the Marvel series and probably isn’t a great standalone film. But for someone following the Marvel storyline, the great characters and amazing score make this film a favorite of anything currently at the box office.
The film is an American Superhero film starring the Marvel Comics character Thor, and is produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film is directed by Alan Taylor, who has spent most of his career until now directing various television series. The sound team consists of Sound Designer Shannon Mills (Avatar, Saving Private Ryan), and Sound Re-recording Mixers Lora Hirschberg (Avengers, Iron Man 2) and Juan Peralta (Tron: Legacy, Avatar).
Sound Design and Mix
SFX of Thor
Many new elements are included in Thor: The Dark World that are not in the first Thor film. Notably, most of the film does not take place on Earth, but on a planet named Asgard. Since the film introduces a new world, it also introduces new sounds for that atmosphere which the audio team had to create. A great example is the spectacular fight scene showing the Dark Elves chasing Thor and Loki in space ships while they flee Asgard with Jane. In that scene, several new sounds are introduced, like those of the ships and weapon lasers. The ship sounds in particular, and the scene in general, remind me of the sounds of the pod racer scene in Star Wars: Episode 1. The sound design and mix of this scene are well produced without being overpowering, which allows the scene to be driven equally by the action and the score.
The Dark Elves
I am all for getting creative with dialog when the time calls for it, especially when dealing with characters who are not human. However, I feel the distracting effects on the voices of the Dark Elves were unrealistic, particularly in the scene with Malekith and Kurse in Svartalfheim (after Thor takes Jane to Asgard). I am not sure how the the dialog track was created, but it seems to me it was done with ADR, since it doesn’t sync up perfectly. It also has some echo added, which is why it sounds far away and not close up like it should have in these scenes. It’s not as noticeable during other parts of the film, but I really noticed it during the close up scenes involving Malekith.
Ambiance in Atmos
Dolby Atmos is still a new technology, and other than a few techniques used in the film Gravity, I feel it has yet to be used to its full potential. Thor: The Dark World could have used the technology to enhance the fight and atmospheric scenes by surrounding the viewer. In fact, a few times while watching I thought to myself, “I wish I could hear people fighting behind me.” Maybe the sound team made a creative decision, or maybe they simply didn’t have the budget or time to record those effects in surround and adapt to Atmos. The huge score that accompanies this film is mixed in surround, and if they had added the atmosphere into the same mix, the foreign worlds could seem larger than life.
The Music of Thor
One of the things I most love about the films I’ve seen in Dolby Atmos is their musical scores. Having overhead speakers enhancing the orchestral mix takes bold film scores to a whole new level. On that point, Thor: The Dark World does not disappoint.
Originally, the film’s score was to be composed by Carter Burwell, but creative differences led to the hiring of Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3, Fast Five). Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige stated “[Tyler] delivered what I think is the best score we’ve had in a Marvel movie.”
Tyler’s biggest impact on this film is in making the score completely unlike the first Thor film, and introduces Thor as a standalone character. Though he carries his own character line and appears in The Avengers, the score elevates Thor to the god-like status he deserves. Also, much of the film takes place on Asgard, a planet where the elements of spaceships and lasers combine with swords and horses. Tyler helps the imagery by giving the score the feel of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” that we have become accustomed to.
In addition to the new world feel of the score, it is mixed well using the Dolby Atmos technology. The Sound Mixers kept things in the surround speakers to minimize the score’s presence when appropriate, but spread sounds into the overhead speakers during the epic cinematic moments and fight scenes. The overwhelming emotions are present when the film calls for them, and viewers are pulled along an otherworldly path in this new Marvel experience.
Fans of Thor and the other Marvel stories can’t go wrong with this film. Sound aside, it’s a great film and the ending plot twist sets up an excellent continuation of the storyline. Not only do I look forward to seeing what Marvel has in store next, but now that the Dolby Atmos technology is gaining ground, I look forward to seeing how it changes the soundscape of future films.