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'Interstellar' doesn't have sound problems — Christopher Nolan wanted it that way

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Sound designer says it's about understanding emotion, not every word

Interstellar has been in theaters for two weekends now, and the most vocal reactions to it have been complaints around its sound. Many viewers have said that the film's loud score and effects make it impossible to hear the dialogue at certain points, and there's been plenty of speculation as to whether that's the fault of theaters that are playing it wrong or someone in Nolan's mixing room who messed up. As it turns out, these issues come from the mixing room — but they're apparently what Nolan intended.

"Some of the words are intentionally downplayed in favor of the emotion of that moment."

Interstellar sound designer Richard King tells The Verge that you aren't always supposed to understand the dialogue because the movie is more concerned with conveying a broader emotional tone. "We mixed this in a way that people aren't used to," King says. "It's more about the experience. The visceral experience of the movie. Being with it. Allowing yourself to be carried along by it. Not grasping for every word, because some of the words are intentionally downplayed in favor of the emotion of that moment give by the actors' emotion and performances."

Nolan made similar comments to The Hollywood Reporter, calling the sound mix "impressionistic" and "unusual" for a blockbuster film. "The theaters I have been at have been doing a terrific job in terms of presenting the film in the way I intended," he tells the Reporter. "Broadly speaking, there is no question when you mix a film in an unconventional way as this, you’re bound to catch some people off guard, but hopefully people can appreciate the experience for what it’s intended to be."

The Interstellar crew's comments ought to make watching the film more comfortable for anyone who actually reads them, but there's still the larger question around how effective this sound mix actually is. As an unconventional mix inside of a complicated film, it's important that viewers understand that they don't need to know every line of dialogue in order to follow along. From the sound of viewers' comments, not everyone understood that — and that's probably going to make watching Interstellar a bit less enjoyable.