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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

11 Ultimate Dolby Atmos Demo Scenes

Posted on May 6, 2016 at 2:20 PM

I've been fortunate enough to watch nearly every Dolby Atmos encoded Blu-ray movie at this point, somehow tricking lucking my way on to the disc reviewer's list. Believe me, friends, there are few greater feelings than to come home and see a Fed-Ex envelope on your doorstep holding a new Blu-ray that isn't going to be released for several more days! 

Recently someone at Dolby asked me to compile a list of my top Atmos scenes in films and after coming up with it I figured, "Hey! Why not post this up on my blog?!?"

Below are some of the best demo scenes from 11 movies that I've reviewed. If you want to read my full movie review, click on the title/link and it will take you to my review at Residential Systems. 

Beware...plot spoilers below...

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 

Sonically, much of this film is dialog driven and takes place inside the cramped, indoor, underground concrete, missile silo-esque bunker of District 13. The mix does a really great job of relaying the claustrophobia and closeness of the acoustic rooms and spaces, providing lots of reverberation and background mechanical, generator, and air circulation sounds that really help to place you inside District 13 with Katniss. 

Even before the titles come up, the film begins with Katniss disoriented and in an enclosed, echo-filled space talking to herself, with the echoes of voices and pipe sounds filling the overhead speakers and bouncing off the side walls. This cuts to a scene in a hospital room where Katniss reunites with Finnick and the sounds are replaced by the close, sterile buzz of fluorescent lighting.

At roughly the four-minute mark, the head of security, Boggs, escorts Katniss down deeper into 13 in an elevator and sounds of the doors clanging shut and floors whooshing by fill the ceiling. When they reach the bottom, the room fills with crowd sounds and chatter to set the busy scene.


More than any film I’ve watched so far, Gravity does an amazing job taking advantage of the four discreet overhead speakers. Where most times these speakers almost seem to be used as one channel to create space, or ambient, or just echo the music, here they are frequently used independently to bounce, swirl and shift the audio environment around the space of ceiling. The music does a great job of matching the onscreen tension, swirling and spinning to mimic Stone’s on-screen disorientation. As Stone floats off structure and out into space, the speakers are filled with static that drifts in and out as he tries to orient herself and reach Houston.

This film is filled with intense scenes, but one of the most intense demos happens near the end of chapter 4 and into chapter 5 as Stone enters the ISS, all sound focuses on her lack of oxygen and her breathing sounds with the sub channel beating out a steady thump-thump heartbeat pulse. As Stone is moving around weightlessly inside the ISS there are little clanging and debris sounds inside the cluttered cabin, and when the fire breaks out, alarms blare through the overhead speakers punctuated with tense music until Stone hits her head and all audio ceases. Flames then rip and roar through the ISS until she seals the hatches, quickly followed by crumping explosions and metal clanking and groaning before Stone undocks the capsule. Not out of the woods, as Stone is trying to float free, the escape pod gets caught up in parachute straps and there is a cacophony of alarms, beeping, and straining metal.

Jupiter Ascending 

Let me just say up front: this movie is dreadful. Like nearly excruciating to watch. But it has a lot of cool visuals and some decent sound so at least hold on to that small glimmer of hope to help you struggle through. Don't even try to follow the mindless plot or horrible accents. It's all just one VFX nightmare gone wrong. 

At 26 minutes in (chapter 3) we get the best demo scene in the entire film. It lasts a little over five minutes, making it absolutely terrific demo room fodder, short of an “Oh sh--!” bit of profanity at the very beginning that makes it less family friendly. The entire scene really demonstrates the swirling and object tracking of Atmos, with all the floor and ceiling speakers fully engaged throughout. It begins with Caine and Jupiter ascending outside the Sears Tower, where ships suddenly materialize overhead. The scene kicks into high gear when Caine’s ship is blown up overhead, causing lots of debris to rain down on the pair. They take off in Caine’s gravity boots and are chased around the tower by multiple alien ships, with lots of swirling audio overhead and around the room with really aggressive pans and tracking and things blowing up off to the side, overhead, and in back. Caine hijacks a ship and heads into the water, with the aliens in pursuit plunging in and out of water, with audio constantly rocking overhead and crisscrossing around the room, all amidst a constant backdrop of laser fire and explosions. Sonically, this is probably one of the best Dolby Atmos demo clips from a movie yet.

The Gunman 

This movie seems to be a vehicle for Sean Penn to show how swole and ripped his body is these days and the film as a whole is kind of a twisted convoluted affair that travels to exotic locales around the globe as Penn tries to figure out who is trying to frame and kill him.

The marquee demo is found in Chapter 11 at the 57-minute mark and lasts about seven minutes. The first gun shots come in big and loud from the front right as Felix, Terrier, and Annie are attacked by multiple assailants. It’s a terrific demo scene with a ton of action and intensity and culminates in an amazing inferno of audio as fire crackles all around the room. Be warned, the scene is pretty brutal, especially near the beginning where Felix takes a rather unfortunate gunshot to the head, so demo it with care. The battle rages around the estate, resulting in shattering glass, splintering wood, and the tinkling of falling brass around the room putting Atmos’ object tracking to wonderful use. Throughout all the mayhem the dialog remains clear and understandable. The scene concludes with Terrier and Annie trapped in a bathroom, where the bad guys pour in a flammable substance and then light the room on fire. I had always thought that Atmos ceiling speakers were truly made to convey overhead rain sounds, but after hearing how well they are employed to handle the roaring fire of this scene, I’m willing to rethink that. The flames ignite with a whomp! that seethes through the room and then continues as the fire burns and rages all around, crackling right through your listening position. The fire billows and swirls and boils all around the room, raging overhead and leaping from speaker to speaker, putting you right in the middle of the inferno and sucking all the air from the viewing space.

Divergent Series: Insurgent 

This is actually a two-part scene starting around 1 hour 28 minutes and then concluding again about 10 minutes later. In the first part, Tris is taunted by Jeanine into attacking her and we get a lot of dialog that shifts in tonal quality and location based on the POV on screen and that room’s acoustics. When Jeanine speaks, her voice is often heard out of the ceiling via the speakers that Tris would be hearing, whereas Tris’s voice is muffled and dulled by the acoustics of the chamber she is in.

When Tris finally attacks, she dives through the glass barrier causing glass to shatter, cascade, and sprinkle all around the room. When Tris is digitally transported into the sim, we are treated to some awesome 3D as she is falling out of the sky. The screen is filled with 3D overhead views of the city, delivering terrific depth. All around Tris the buildings are shattering, disintegrating, and collapsing, and the audio fills the room with sounds of rubble and debris careening all around and overhead. The scene is also filled with awesome, tight, deep bass from multiple explosions. Part two of the fight happens when Tris decides to complete the Amity sim and she is forced to battle the deadliest version of herself.

The scene begins with Evil Tris jumping through a glass window that shatters around the room and then slamming Good Tris through a wall. They are once again transported into the collapsing city as they fight from building to building with Evil Tris battering and punching Good Tris through walls and floors and buildings in a very Matrix-styled superhuman battle. Evil Tris is finally defeated by peace—Amity—and she dissolves. This causes The Box to unlock and open, revealing the true meaning of the city and factions and Divergents, setting the scene for Allegiant, the trilogy’s climatic conclusion.

Mad Max: Fury Road 

The entire film is a virtual CrossFit workout for your subwoofer, with deep, tight, massive soul-pounding bass in nearly every scene, yet it never dissolves into a massive, flabby, mindless rumble, but rather has constant nuance and layered texture to convey every rumble and explosion. From drums, to huge V8 engines, to explosions, to collisions, to gun blasts, all of it is detailed and clear while pounding and pulsing through the room. So shiny, so chrome!

From the opening seconds of the film, the soundtrack instantly immerses you in the world of Mad Max, with voices that swirl, echo, and shift around the room and deep-throated engine revs that pulse, throb, and roar throughout the room. There is more intensity and mayhem and just suck-you-into-the-action in the opening moments before the title even comes up on the screen than most other films can muster in their entire duration! While the entire film is a testament to amazing audio here’s one of the top moments. But, honestly, just pop some corn, dim the lights, and enjoy this epic ride eternal to the gates of Valhalla!

Near the 17-minute mark, the War Boys leave the Citadel in pursuit of Furiosa and her War Rig. The chase begins with a truck racing up from the back of the room and launching over the viewer’s head and they race after her amidst a throbbing guitar and drum driven soundtrack that reminded me of a Blue Man Group show, including the war party being spurred on by the Coma-Doof Warrior, a flame throwing guitar player strapped to a rig that has a speaker array that would be the envy of any coliseum’s PA. Vehicles are constantly exploding, with machines and people cartwheeling overhead through the ceiling speakers, or whipping past along the sides of the room, or racing up from behind. And the sound mixer, God bless him, never misses a single chance to convey every scrape, collision, or flaming moment of the glorious destruction. The vehicles and weapons have an insane amount of fabrication and creativity with nitrous boosters, exploding lances, circular saw blades attached to hydraulic arms, vehicles covered in porcupine-like spikes, fire grenades, and sawed-off shotguns, and all impart their own color to the majestic sonic tapestry.

At 21:45 a War Boy lancer throws a spear that passes right through the room and whistling past your head, and then at 27 minutes the party races into a massive sand and lightning cyclone storm that whistles and roars around the room. A vehicle gets swept up into one of the swirling vortexes and spins around the room before being thrown over your head and into the back wall behind you. The scene ends as Max is thrown from his vehicle and blacks out.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula 

Yes, this movie is old. But according to the press release that accompanied this disc, “The new Dolby Atmos audio, remixed specifically for the home theater environment, delivers captivating sound that places and moves audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.”

The new Atmos audio mix is actually stellar, really amping up the scare factor with lots of subtle atmospherics and things skittering and crawling around the room. The audio designers really took advantage of every opportunity to expand the audio mix and fill the listening space with sounds both subtle and overt to capture the on-screen ambience and action. Sonically this 7.1-channel TrueHD Atmos mix is as modern as any blockbuster.

At 10 minutes in, a coach drops Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) off in the middle of nowhere with the sounds of desperate, hungry wolves crying and growling all around the room as they stalk the coach. Thunder booms and cracks overhead, and when the coach pulls into Dracula’s castle, the heavy iron gates roll closed from the floor to ceiling and ceiling to floor, closing us off from the outside world. As we get our first look at Dracula and his castle, the room is filled with tons of atmospheric audio effects. Throughout our time in the castle, we hear the constant sounds of wailing souls traveling around the room and overhead, the drip of water, the groan of walls, and the skittering of rats and other unseen, nasty creatures around the room, from side to side and overhead. Much of it is subtle but it does a wonderful job of creating the eerie, other-worldly soundstage of the castle.

San Andreas 

In a way, this movie reminded me of when we used to play Sim City as kids. After a while you’d get bored of building city infrastructure and management and then you would just send wave after wave of disasters at your city and sit back and watch all the destruction, chaos, and suffering. Except the whole time it is California and mainly San Francisco taking the abuse. Over and over.

A big tremor comes near the 32-minute mark in chapter four, and cuts back and forth between a restaurant, offices at Caltech, and a San Francisco office building. While in the restaurant there are the sounds of screams from all around, and glass shaking and knocking together overhead as the quake begins, and then desks and walls rattling as people scurry to safety under their desks at Caltech. At the 34-minute mark we cut to the office building in San Francisco as a limo holding Blake tries to race out of the building, while the underground garage starts collapsing. It doesn't make it. The overhead speakers do a great job conveying the chunks of the building falling down all around you, putting you in the garage. When the billionaire boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), gets out of the limo you get some nice groaning of girders overhead and around the room as the building strains under the damage.

At 36 minutes, there is a mass exodus of people leaving the building's lobby with screaming and moaning all around. The scene cuts back to the restaurant, as Emma tries to make it up to the ceiling while the room literally collapses and falls apart all around you. There's a constant cacophony of screams, falling bodies, groaning concrete, raining debris, and a steady bass rumble that will flutter your pants. After the big shaking is over at the 40-minute mark, you get some really nice subtle atmospherics of things falling and settling back into place before Ray comes roaring up in his helicopter to save the day. Of course, things are never that easy, and fireballs start erupting, the flames billowing up into the ceiling and combining with the steady whirr of the helicopter. The entire scene runs about 12 minutes with almost no slow bits, and ends in classic, "Only happens in Hollywood!" style at 44 minutes with a chunk of falling building whacking the helicopter, causing it to spin out of control, moving violently around the room.

Terminator: Genisys 

As the name suggests, Genisys returns to the beginning, and the majority of the move is just classic summertime, popcorn fun, with tons of action, massive explosions, and terrific effects. The writers do a great job rebooting the series while still playing homage to its origins, and Genisys delivers a near shot-for-shot recreation of one of the original Terminator’s iconic scenes, immediately thrusting fans back into known — and beloved — territory.

Genisys is a reference Atmos soundtrack in all regards, truly made for home theater demos and rarely missing any opportunity to push audio boundaries.

At 1 hour 23 in Chapter 13 we get what I think is the marquee demo of the disc. It begins with Connor walking into the bunker/armory that Arnold has set up and his voice swirls all around the room as the characters try tracking him. At 1:25 Sarah blasts him with — I believe — a Milkor M32 MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher), sending massive explosions, debris, and fireballs around the room. Secondary explosions continue in the background before a huge fireball erupts through the center of the room.

Shortly after, Connor gives chase on a motorcycle, and he jumps overhead and lands on the roof of the bus, his motorcycle flying off and causing cars to swerve into the left and ride side of the room as they try and avoid it. Arnold and Kyle blast away at Connor, shooting holes into the ceiling and you can clearly hear the thin metal of the bus’s roof buckling as John walks around overhead, letting you accurately track his movements through all four ceiling speakers. At 1:27 you hear John move down the left side of the bus and crawl underneath, where he throws Arnold through the windshield of a cop car providing a gimmicky, though effective, bit of 3D fun. Moments later Connor rips the brakes off the bus, throwing them past your head into the back of the room causing the bus to go careening and smashing along the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately, they don’t need to worry about not having any brakes because Connor rips out the axle at 1:28 making the bus flip in the air and spin end-over-end through the room delivering an epic amount of low frequency info into the room. The bus rolls for a bit before coming to rest perilously hanging from the side of the bridge, tail down towards the Bay. The audio space inside the bus is filled with great subtle sounds of the bus and the bridge with creaking metal groaning and other ambient sounds as Kyle and Sarah climb out to safety.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation 

Christopher McQuarrie from The Usual Suspects fame directs this fifth installment of the Impossible franchise, and he delivers a film filled with twists and turns, crosses and double-crosses, along with numerous big chase and elaborate break-in schemes the series is known for. This is not a non-stop Mad Max level of action, but rather the majority of the movie is dialog based. Even still, the side, rear, and ceiling speakers are used to nice effect throughout for conveying the musical score or providing subtle ambience. But rest assured, when the team does plan an impossible break-in, it raises the bar and delivers the classic over-the-top, big action pieces that made the series famous.

Chapter 8 opens at 1:01 with the impossible break-in into a computer lab in Morocco to steal the identities of the Syndicate agents. Parachutists whisk past your head on both sides and darts shoot in from the ceiling down to the left side of the room. Ethan uses a device to send high frequency signals to break glass that provides a not-so-nice room filling, ear-piercing sound. In one of the film’s marquee scenes, Ethan dives into a hydro-cooled computer data vault center. Before he jumps, the room is filled with atmospheric sounds of water rushing and the steady rumble of machines and pumps running. The entire scene is based on timing and breath holding and getting the codes uploaded before Dunn hits the end of this hallway. All of this adds up to a really tension-filled demo that will have people fully engaged.

One of the film’s best demos comes at 1:05 when Hunt jumps into the cooling system’s water flow with a splash that flows up into the ceiling channels. When the water flow is interrupted, it cuts off through each of the channels with a nice chunk-chunk-chunk that circles around the room. As Hunt is sucked into the water, it swirls and bubbles and flows all around the room, with his heartbeat a steady reminder of the timetable. The vault’s arm swings by, whisking past overhead and passing just to the side of you depending on the POV. The entire scene is filled with the tension of Hunt’s breath hold, the steady deep bass notes of machinery and Hunt’s heartbeat, and other sounds swirling around the room, and cutting back and forth to different acoustic environments. Stop the scene at 1:08 to keep your audience on the edge of their seats, or continue on till 1:10 to see how it ends with a ton of ambient voices echoing off the hard concrete walls of the underground space that really establishes the acoustic environment as they revive Hunt.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 

Where Part 1 was a bit slow and plodding, focusing on developing and setting up the story for the final conflict of Katniss taking on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) after him having firebombed her district into ashes, this movie features far more action and picks up almost immediately following Part 1, with Katniss in an infirmary being examined. Katniss declares war on Snow and sets out to the Capitol bent on assassinating him. This creates all-out war as the rebels march on the Capitol avoiding various sinister booby traps and ambushes along the way. Or, as Finnick (Sam Claflin), said, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games!”

Chapter 9 starts at around 1:03 and “the arena has moved underground,” with the band climbing down ladders to the tunnels beneath the Capitol. This begins a lengthy underground scene that is filled with terrific audio, with lots of creaking sounds of pipes overhead, steam venting, water dripping and trickling, and shows that terrific demo scenes don’t need to include explosions and mayhem. The scene begins with a train racing by overhead, its audio perspective changing as the camera moves. The steady hum and buzz of fluorescents and low ceiling constantly reminds you of the cramped quarters. At 1:04, a train races by the right side of the room and into the back. Note the audio starting at 1:06:18, as water trickles all around the room, and especially as you are focused on Peeta how the drops change in location as he moves. Great stuff. Even during the conversation between Peeta and Katniss at 1:08, the quality of the dialog and the reverb and the distant sounds keep you in the tunnels and heighten the moment between them.

The big underground action scene starts just seconds into chapter 10 and lasts the entire chapter. It begins with creepy voices echoing in the distance, the voices swirling around the room and disorienting the group as unseen trouble approaches. This scene reminds me of Aliens, when they were being attacked from the overhead passageways inside the Nostromo. “Game over, man!” There are several false starts to the attack which does a great job of building tension in the scene as the band slowly moves through tunnels, Gale lighting their path with exploding crossbow bolts. When the attack finally happens, the scene kicks into high gear as the Mutts swarm. The battle rages around the room with concussive explosions, frenzied music, gunshots, and the snarling and growling Mutts coming in from all sides. Once they escape the tunnels, they immediately step into a firefight with gunshots that blast tile around the room, fire traps that come down from the ceiling, and razor floor traps that chew up the ground beneath your feet. This is definitely the most intense fight of the film, and features terrific audio, but use discernment when selecting this as a demo.

Categories: Movies, Top 10 List, Reviews