Oscar season is upon us. As ever, the highest accolade is that of Best Picture, and it’s perhaps the tightest the competition has been in years: Black Panther; BlacKkKlansman; Bohemian Rhapsody; The Favourite; Green Book; Roma; A Star is Born; Vice. Each unique, and each, in its own way uniquely deserving of a win.
[Please note that this post includes some spoilers for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma]
We’ve got our opinion of what should take the night’s top prize, but we’re keeping that to ourselves – we’re here to talk tech, and this year’s Best Picture award is full of films that are a cinephile’s dream.
That’s almost solely down to Dolby. The past few years has seen the company slowly but assuredly seed its most advanced cinematic technologies yet, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, to the point where five of the eight nominees (Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, Roma and A Star is Born) come equipped with the double-whammy pairing of both Vision and Atmos tech baked into their presentations.
Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision
Want to know more about the two technologies? For the in depth read check out the below:
...but for the quick explanation, Dolby Vision is a high-end proprietary high dynamic range format that ensures the deepest blacks, brightest whites and most vibrant colors from an image.
Dolby Atmos is an audio tool that uses objects – not channels – to let sound designers create more immersive sound for TV and film, that make you feel that sound isn’t just coming from in front and around you, but above you too, letting sounds move naturally around to give the impression that you truly are at the centre of a scene.
The other tech angle here is the addition of Netflix, the lead western distributor for Roma, which is currently the bookmaker’s favorite to take home the Best Picture award.
Netflix has been financing films for its streaming service for years now and, after courting some controversy in the process, Roma’s nomination finally sees its efforts fully recognised by the industry.
As such, you can stream Roma right now, at home on Netflix. Which is great – the convenience of being able to watch how and when you want is one of the key victories of the modern connected age for movie fans.
Worth the upgrade
If you’re lucky enough to have a top-notch Dolby Vision-supporting TV and Dolby Atmos surround speakers, you’re in for a particular treat – Netflix supports these technologies, and Roma is simply one of the finest films to fully take advantage of those technologies to date, for reasons we’ll discuss shortly.
But the reality is that, for most, Netflix is streamed on whatever device is at hand, be that tiny bedroom TV or pocket-bound mobile phone. The high-end Dolby Vision televisions and Atmos speakers are an indulgence that only the most dedicated of cine-and-audiophiles currently invest in.
So we implore you: whether you’re planning to stream Roma, or already have done so, without having a Dolby-equipped living room available, stop right now or grab your jacket and head out to watch it at a Dolby-equipped cinema – it’s an absolutely transformative experience.
The film tells the story of Cleo, the indigenous live-in nanny for an upper class family living in Mexico City. It’s a family being torn asunder by a broken marriage, with noisy kids in a noisy neighbourhood.
Cleo, both loved and taken for granted by the family, navigates their personal triumphs and tragedies with care, while shielding her employing family from her own concerns and worries – namely the fact that she has become pregnant by an estranged partner.
Roma, with its black and white presentation, delivers great detail and definition between its shades of grey, deep black and blinding white in a way only Dolby’s tech is capable of, but it's Dolby Atmos here that impresses the most.
An emotional tech connection
The technology works wonders with Roma largely in part because the film’s use of dialogue is relatively sparse, and there is no musical score accompanying the action. With little dialogue to play with, ambient sound becomes of paramount importance. It’s here where Dolby Atmos excels.
Three key scenes come to mind, which we’ll attempt to describe while venturing as little into spoiler territory as possible.
The first, actually, is several scenes – any street scene. At one point we see Cleo and a friend having a sprint race through Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood to a local restaurant.
The cacophony of sounds that make up any urban environment are truly brought to life – a lengthy shot sees Atmos move the entire scene audibly along with Cleo’s run.
Market sellers shout, birds tweet overhead, and a near miss with a car at a crossing is brought dramatically into action, as the car’s engine sound cuts through the scene as central front-facing speakers bring it screeching to a halt.
It’s almost a moment of synaesthesia, with the audio helping to conjure the heat of the Mexico street, the smell of the vehicles and the traders' wares.
It’s a completely different sensation shortly afterwards. We’re treated to an intimate scene with Cleo and her lover Fermín in a bedroom, as seen through Cleo’s eyes whilst she lays on the bed looking out at the room.
Her lover performs an intense martial arts routine using a shower rail, and his grunts forcefully show his intimidating physicality, while the swishes and swooshes of his stick weave overhead with precision.
But then he climbs onto the bed, close to the camera and Cleo’s behind-the-lens face, his head convincingly silhouetted by the Dolby Vision display, and all that’s left is the couple’s breathing. Fermín’ is audible in front, and Cleo’s breathing above and behind.
It’s difficult to remember seeing a scene in which you, the viewer, more convincingly inhabit it yourself. It’s spine-tingling.
And finally, a climactic scene set along a beach shoreline. Desperation forces Cleo out among the crashing waves, and it’s delivered sonically with an intensity unlike anything you’ll have heard before.
If you fear the sea, beware: the Atmos mix comes just shy of throwing a bucket of salty water over you.
As movie and technology fans, we at TechRadar often rave about the advancing technologies bringing home and commercial cinema to ever new heights.
Roma’s use of Dolby Atmos represents the marriage of everything we love about tech and film. If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself, and your senses, to see Roma in a Dolby-powered cinema.