Inaudible dialogue, Bane, and The Dark Knight Rises

Feature Simon Brew
20 Jul 2012 - 16:15

Is it just Simon who's struggled to hear everything that's being said in The Dark Knight Rises? And does it matter?

Please note: there are no spoilers in this article, but our ongoing advice remains to watch The Dark Knight Rises before you read anything about it.

As some wise person once said, detectives don't ignore coincidences. Now, I'm no detective, but after leaving a screening of Christoper Nolan's Inception two years ago, I wrote a piece for this site entitled The Rising Problem Of Inaudible Dialogue. It's here.

To save you clicking that link, though, the gist was this. I saw Inception in the middle of a big cinema in the West End of London, and there were moments where, in spite of having what I've always regarded as decent hearing, I simply couldn't hear what was going on. In particular, Ken Watanabe's character, whose words were only revealed to me by watching the Blu-ray with subtitles on several months later.

I made the point then, as I'm about to make now, that it's little secret that the audio quality and balance in cinemas around the country, yet alone the world, is variable. But I heard the same issues from others who had seen Inception in all sorts of cinemas, as well as from a bunch of people who thought I was clearly bonkers. I'm fully expecting the same reaction again now, as well as recommendations to get my ears syringed. But here goes.

I saw The Dark Knight Rises at the BFI's wonderful IMAX cinema in Waterloo, London. It's a treat of a place to go, and I've never had a problem with any film I've seen or heard in there before.

Appreciating, then, that there were much-talked-about issues with the audibility of Tom Hardy's Bane character just from the prologue, screened for the first time before Christmas, I was surprised at just how much of what he was saying I still managed to miss – that the key antagonist of the film is sometimes such a struggle to understand.

Hardy has a tough job in The Dark Knight Rises, having his face covered by a mask for the film's duration. And work was apparently done after the initial reaction to the prologue to make what he was saying a little clearer. I did find much of his dialogue easy to follow, but there were parts of the film where I found him simply incomprehensible. And without the benefit of being able to read his lips, thanks to the aforementioned mask, I fear I'm awaiting the Blu-ray release and the subtitles button again.

I've checked with friends and colleagues who have seen the film on different screens, and have a cross-section of opinion in return. It seems a 50/50 split once more - as it was with Inception - between those who had no problem, and those who did. That's even amongst those who were in the same screening as me, oddly enough.

But I don't think I'm alone, and I do think there's clearly a problem here.There are, it seems, too many people reporting identical issues. Furthermore, at times, Hans Zimmer's score - as it was in Inception - is so dominating that it's at the occasional expense of picking up other things that are going on. It's not just Bane's dialogue that I hit problems with, as one or two other lines here and there seemed to be lost in an ongoing swirl of noise.

There is an argument that suggests, incidentally, that it's not important to hear every word that Bane's saying in the film. I don't agree with it, but I've heard it a few times as a counterpoint, and appreciate that, again, not everyone will feel the same way as me about that. Hence it seems fair to include it.

Over the past couple of years since I wrote the original piece, I've not had quite the same level of problem with inaudible dialogue that I was having then. Certainly, there's not been quite so much mumbling in recent blockbusters, with Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson's B.A. in The A-Team movie arguably the peak of this 'what on earth did they just say' syndrome.

I wonder, though, if lots of you are experiencing the same thing with The Dark Knight Rises that I did, and if there are any more recent films where you've experienced such a problem? I appreciate inaudible dialogue is never going to be a top trending topic or anything like that, but it's one of my main bugbears with modern cinema when it rears its head. If you'd take the time to post below, it'd be appreciated. No spoilers, though.

That, or feel free to tell me my ears need cleaning...

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