The sound of silence: How Dolby Atmos brought gravitas to Gravity

"You can suddenly hear all those minute details in an infinitely better manner. They were always there, and they were always good but just by using Atmos - the sheer quality of the sound and the weight of it - creates a better emotional contact.


Freemantle wasn't the only Atmos fan on Gravity's production team - the film's writer and director, Alfonso Cuaron, has described it as "the sound system I always dreamed of".

But the absence of sound was as crucial to the film as the muffled but flinch-inducing crashes of bullet-speed debris obliterating space stations.

"Part of what was great about it is that we had space to put silence in, so you actually feel things move - we have those gaps so that when something happens it's more dynamic than it would ever be [otherwise]. We weren't trying to swamp it, we were trying to tell a story of what is going on rather than it just be sound all the time."

One, two, park

This reliance on silence and the fluid movement of a theatre speaker set up adds to the consensus that Gravity is an event film - it's not one to download on your phone and watch on the bus, it's one to go out to the cinema for.

But it's one thing make your audience feel like they're in the film when they're watching it in IMAX 3D with Dolby Atmos sound all around them - but how do you translate that to someone watching it on their iPhone on the bus wearing crappy Apple headphones?

There's a slightly awkward pause. "Well..."

"Mobile phones - most of these sounds - I don't even know if you're going to hear them," says Niv Adiri, the film's sound design editor and re-recording mixer, almost sadly. "They're a different register."

"At home, most people have got good systems these days and even in a not very good system you're going to hear the details - but it's a different experience."

"I think on phones - because you can watch the trailers on a phone already - yeah, you can hear it and it still looks amazing. You get the sense of it, but you're never going to get this [Atmos]," Freemantle adds. "Well, not yet..."

And we're off into a world where Dolby Atmos is installed in baseball caps and powered by a Dolby Atmos phone app.

But that's a long way off given that Atmos is barely in cinemas. Australia doesn't even have one yet and there are just four Dolby Atmos theatres in the UK that you, Joe Public, can visit. There are more in the US - around 122 - but considering the size of the country, you're still looking at a bit of a road-trip to visit one.

It's worth the pilgrimage though, the sound team tells us. Watching Gravity in Atmos rather than standard audio is an upgrade that's on a par with going from 2D to IMAX 3D.

"This is not just an improvement. This is the next stage of listening to films in the cinema," says Freemantle. "It's a completely new experience."

"It helps people feel it," Adiri adds. "You don't just hear it, you feel it."

News Editor (UK)

Former UK News Editor for TechRadar, it was a perpetual challenge among the TechRadar staff to send Kate (Twitter, Google+) a link to something interesting on the internet that she hasn't already seen. As TechRadar's News Editor (UK), she was constantly on the hunt for top news and intriguing stories to feed your gadget lust. Kate now enjoys life as a renowned music critic – her words can be found in the i Paper, Guardian, GQ, Metro, Evening Standard and Time Out, and she's also the author of 'Amy Winehouse', a biography of the soul star.