Close Encounters audio: 70mm vs. 35mm versions - High-Def Digest Forums
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Old 07-20-2016, 04:45 PM
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Default Close Encounters audio: 70mm vs. 35mm versions

Hi, all - this is my first post. When Close Encounters first hit theaters, some of the larger cities were provided with 70mm prints, while most others had to make do with 35mm. I was fortunate in that I was able to see both versions within days of each other. The difference between the two soundtracks was immense, starting with the opening fortissimo "WHOMP" following the opening titles. Barry's abduction was truly frightening in 70mm - not just a background rumble over which "Chances Are" was easily audible - and the Mothership scene felt like the seats had Magic Fingers, with occasional flecks of plaster drifting down from the theater ceiling (I'm not kidding!). Until recently, all home video releases seem to have relied on the far less challenging 35mm audio tracks and that's been a major disappointment for me. I can understand that early home audio set-ups weren't always up to the demands, but that's all changed. My question is, did anyone else notice this extreme difference at the time, and has any effort been made to "beef up" the audio on these newer hi-def releases?

RoyK
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Old 07-20-2016, 05:25 PM
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I suspect that the differences you heard back in the day were mostly due to the 70mm theaters having better speakers and sound systems in general than the 35mm theaters. The 70mm capable theaters were the premium movie venues of the day, and were likely to invest in better quality equipment like that. In 1977, most 35mm theaters were still running mono sound. The difference between the two was, I'm sure, very dramatic.

70mm film prints had a 6-channel soundtrack that equated to five channels across the front screen and a mono surround channel. This does not directly map to the modern 5.1 configuration, but can be remixed for it pretty well.

As for whether the Blu-ray lives up to the 70mm audio, that's hard to say. Time and memory have a way of romanticizing our experiences of the past.
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Old 07-21-2016, 04:51 PM
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Hi, Josh -

In this instance, I can't say I've allowed my memories to take over and improve with age. These were impressions I noted at the time and "filed away" into my permanent memory. Yes, 6-channel in an up-to-date theater compared with 4-channel in a smaller theater tucked off somewhere in the suburbs offers a considerably enhanced experience, of which I was already well aware. I made it a point back then to seek out 70mm presentations as often as they turned up, and would still do so today. Seattle Cinerama regularly schedules 70mm festivals in which the great old blockbusters are presented absolutely state-of-the-art, and it's truly an event. I should also mention that Close Encounters in 70mm was reported at the time to contain a dedicated LFE track that was not part the 35mm prints (...think along the lines of "Earthquake" in Sensurround).

The theater in Seattle that finally got a 70 print (and thank you, Randy Finley, for convincing Mike and Julia Phillips that we deserved one!) completely upgraded its audio system by, in part, adding two very large "bass radiators" (subs) to the rear of the auditorium. Prior to its being acquired by Randy, it was an older suburban theater, not originally equipped for 70mm. His improvements at the time turned it into one of the best venues in town.

Some years later, when the "Special Edition" came out, I attended a showing at that very same theater. The print was 35mm and the audio was clearly limited and diminished - same theater, same sound system, very different results. That audio was the same as what I've noticed on every home vid release, from laserdisc, to VHS, to DVD, whether it was the "Special Edition," "Director's Cut," whatever - and it's very disappointing to recall how the movie played in all its original glory, knowing that home audio systems have improved to the point that they could do it justice, and aren't being given that chance. That's why I raised the question.

I should add, Josh, that I worked in professionally classical music, primarily opera, for nearly 30 years. Listening to sounds and trying to make sense out of them was perhaps the largest part of what I did.

Thanks, Josh!

Roy
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Old 07-22-2016, 12:12 PM
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You're obviously a lot more familiar with the movie than I am. I've only ever seen it on home video.

Assuming you're right (and I have no reason to doubt you), the other possibility is that the 70mm audio elements weren't available at the time of the Blu-ray transfer. They may have been lost or damaged or even destroyed over time.
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