Here's Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand

A friend sent me this article. It is a pretty long article, but it is full of details on why this happens. There is no "fluff" in this article.

I found it completely fascinating. There are a couple movies I have noted that have had excellent audio (and video), but I’m sure there are many more:

Wonder Woman - this has absolutely excellent audio and video quality. Everything is very high resolution and mixed extremely well. I actually use this movie a lot for testing audio/video in different situations.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2: (yeah, don’t laugh at me). This movie has very high video resolution and clarity in the beginning scenes (as well as many other scenes). One of the sharpest and highest image detail I have seen. The audio is very good as well.

==== on the other hand ===

Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker - this movie has absolutely horrid audio. The mix is much lower than what you need and audio clarity absolutely sucks. This was just a recent movie I watched, but I have seen many action movies where the audio is loud enough, but it’s a complete mess.


The general volume of the Star Wars movie was much less than any other movie.  It was basically like listening to a stereo recording with only 1 speaker instead of a full 2 speakers.

A lot of actors whisper their dialog instead of speaking it (trying not to appear too "manly"? I don’t know). Gets on my nerves...

Unintelligible? Right away I thought, "Christopher Nolan!" Sure enough, he comes up right away. But the next biggest factor comes way near the end, "Sound is still a mystery to a lot of people." 

Oh well. It is by and large a lot better than it was 50 years ago.

My dad was a film and sound editor. Back in those days it was all film and lots of care was taken to get it right because unlike digital, you couldn't fix it on the fly and had to reshoot. Set up was done right the first time, all the time. Any clean up done in post production was a chore in itself.

Not liking the quality of the sound on most of the library that the studios had, my dad would be his own foley and make better recordings of sound effects to use in his work. Sometimes he'd step in and do 2nd director work if they were short handed. He even doubled for Anthony Quinn for The Man and the City for back and side shots if some small scene had to be reshot. He looked like a cross between Jason Robards and Anthony Quinn (quite the handsome rascal). 

Anyway, he tried to get me a job and for half a year I'd go in for an hour before my regular job to learn the ropes on sound editing. It was just an entry level job where I'd clean the heads of the giant recorders, put on the music reel, the dialogue reel and the sound effects reel and synchronize them for the lead guy to patch it all into the big room where they'd play it all back, adjusting levels, until they were satisfied.

I'd go in and watch them do it and once there was a quarrel between two execs and one of them was being a prick about what couldn't hear. The other guy was incredulous and so was I. Here I am, all the way in the back of a massive theater and I could hear everything but this tool was sabotaging the other guys work. It happens more than you know. So there's that aspect to consider. But even with that, I've never seen a movie shot on film where I couldn't understand the dialogue. This article rings so true about modern day digital shooting, lazy actors, and what seems like lower standards in some respects when it comes to audience consideration. 

I remember my dad lamenting the advent of digital. He saw it as flat, lifeless, stark and hard to work with, but that was in it's infancy and they had a long way to go before they got it right.

All the best,

I mentioned this thread to Taras. (the other half of Teo Audio)

Maybe he might contribute a bit to it...

One thing I'd like to add is that the author of the piece didn't mention his method of watching movies (that I can recall). Since most people stream nowadays, that could also be a factor. The reason I bring this up is that I just had my LG OLED TV repaired and besides replacing the screen, one of the command modules was replaced. This processor controls lots of functions with the pixel refreshing feature being one of them and it was not doing it's job, leading to some pretty bad image retention.

When it was all done and set back up, not only was the picture fantastic, but so was the sound. It was much improved, especially in regards to dialogue and intelligibility.  All I use is a soundbar and it was better in all respects.

This lead me to think that a potential bottleneck could be the processor used to handle the sound in a mass produced TV. One made with cost cutting tech just good enough to do the job and nothing approaching SOTA. Just replacing the unit with a new and improved one (that looked nothing like the old one) made for a big leap in performance. 

With all the constant improvements with streaming audio I don't see why the audio portion of a TV should be overlooked. No matter what one has downstream of it, it's literally a great example of garbage in, garbage out.

All the best,