Yesterday the internets were ablaze with a battle between people who had a hard time hearing Bane's dialogue in the Dark Knight Rises prologue and trailer and the hyperzealous Batjihadists who wanted to burn them alive to make them repent for daring speak out in any way against any creative decisions made by Our Holy Lord Christopher Nolan, Sexless Aesthete Of The British Order Of Wonky Directors. And then there were some reasonable people who were like 'Well, he'll probably tweak the sound before the movie comes out.'
Turns out it's another bad day to be a reasonable person: Christopher Nolan will not tweak the sound! Not very much, anyway. Says The Hollywood Reporter:
Sources close to the movie say Warner Bros. is very aware of the sound issue. One source working on the film says he is “scared to death” about “the Bane problem.” And with good reason. The last Batman film, 2008’s The Dark Knight, grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, and the studio doesn’t want anything to tamper with Rise’s chances for success.
Sources also say some at Warners would like Nolan to change the sound mix, but the filmmaker, whose autonomy is well-earned (his Inception earned the studio more than $800 million and eight Oscar nominations), has informed executives that he plans only to alter the sound slightly, not to rework it completely.
“Chris wants the audience to catch up and participate rather than push everything at them. He doesn't dumb things down," says one high-level exec, declining to be named. “You've got to pedal faster to keep up.”
So here's where it gets interesting, and worthy of coverage here: does it matter? Is comprehensibility really that big a deal in a modern action movie?
Here's my answer: unless incomprehensibility is part of the point (ie, everybody in the movie keeps saying "WTF did Bane just say?'), character dialogue should be basically understandable. And easily understandable, when allowing for differences in audience hearing ability and theatrical presentation (ie #2, not every theater will have great sound). When Robert Altman made movies with sound mixes filled with overlapping, hard to follow dialogue, that was part of the point. He wanted watching these movies to be like walking down the street and picking up snippets of conversation. It wasn't that Altman didn't know how to mix sound or didn't care - he actually WANTED it to be that way, and had made a very specific aesthetic choice for it.
It's possible that Nolan is making an aesthetic choice here - no one has seen the film to really judge that. Perhaps Bane's dialogue is jumbled because his message is confused. Or it reflects the inner state of a character pumped up on Venom. But I suspect that it's just one of those Nolan 'realistic' tics, where he thinks a guy with a mask over his mouth would be pretty hard to make out.
There's one other question that is raised by this: how much does the filmmaker owe the audience? Should we expect to be able to understand everything that's being said in a film? Looking at Nolan's previous work the question extends to 'Should we be able to make out every action in a fight scene?' I think a guy like Nolan, who is coming off two huge hits, should be able to make his own version of a blockbuster - but should that blockbuster still be at least semi-approachable by the audience?