Film Takes Flight

In July I wrote a piece about 7.1 surround sound and how the technology being developed by Dolby and others is moving cinema forward and attracting new audiences by changing their viewing experience. Watching Brain Farm Cinema and Curt Morgan’s The Art of Flight at Dolby’s San Francisco headquarters last week brought that point home in high-definition.

This film is the latest entry in the action-sports genre; a genre that up until this point, has been marketed towards a very specific demographic. The Art of Flight aimed to change this, and through its innovative use of technology, has been successful.

It should be noted that not only am I a layman when it comes to snowboarding, but having seen dozens of action-sports films previously, it is safe to say I am not a fan of the genre. However, from the very first frame of The Art of Flight, I was consumed in a way that few films have been able to do. This in itself is proof that this film is successful in its mission to capture a new audience, and the film’s use of technology deserves much of the credit.

From a visual standpoint, what Brain Farm and Curt Morgan were able to accomplish is simply outstanding. Morgan shot with a wide range of formats and cameras, from the Red Epic to 35mm and even 7D, and the end result is nearly flawless. The picture quality, both in theatres and on Blu-ray is, without exaggeration, stunning. It is a great demo disk for your home theatre–if you have upgraded to Blu-ray.

And while the visuals and innovative use of digital filmmaking is something to behold, it was the sound that really brought me into the film. The film’s use of sound is similar to the philosophy that is employed in blockbuster filmmaking. It was loud and in your face, however the difference here was Dolby’s 7.1 surround sound.

What 7.1 surround sound did for the film was not simply add more dimensions to the audio but it was able to add subtlety. Loud films, especially actions films, can often have a wall of sound effect when played in stereo or even 5.1, 7.1 surround sound changes this. The music was deafening, but because of 7.1, it never drowned out the other sounds. Everything was clear, and sharply defined, instead of being muffled and confusing. The sound effects, mostly done in post-production, were mixed with such precision that they always kept you immersed in the film.

While the cinematic craftsmanship and sportsmanship at work in this film should not be ignored, it was the technology that allowed it to become accessible to those who might previously have ignored it. The film’s strength is an example of the power of sound in film and the importance of pushing the bar in cinema. Its effectiveness should be proof to filmmakers and audiences that new technology is not simply a gimmick, but has true artistic merit.

The digital filmmaking and Dolby’s revolutionary sound work showcased in this film are a true testament to the effect that technology can have on a film’s overall strength. As this film falls in a genre that is typically marketed exclusively to a specific demographic, The Art of Flight could have had an uphill struggle for mainstream appeal. Based on its early online sales, it seems that The Art of Flight will be a cross-over success.

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