Every year, the technology for watching movies improves a little more, inching along on the quest to provide total immersion in a film. So much is made about advances in visual fidelity, however, that the role of sound is often overlooked. Sound design is a crucial aspect of filmmaking, engulfing the audience in a way visuals simply cannot, and theaters are always looking for ways to make their sound systems better. Dolby’s Atmos system is one of the latest formats to hit commercial and home theaters and sounds incredible, thanks to its ability to rain sound effects from up above and all around you.
Unlike a surround sound setup, in which sounds come from a limited number of channels broadcast through speakers arranged around a room, Atmos broadcasts each object of sound (such as a glass hitting the ground or a person shouting) to a specific place in the room, as designated by the engineers who mixed the soundtrack. This enables sound mixers to craft highly detailed soundtracks for films that convince the audience that they are within the action. Already popular in theaters, Atmos is also available in homes, as more Blu-rays are being released with Atmos soundtracks. At around 150 Dolby Atmos movies, the selection is limited, but there are still plenty of movies on the list that deserve the surround sound experience.
Mad Max: Fury Road, the resurrection of George Miller’s apocalyptic 80s franchise, was a surprise hit, garnering rave reviews for its highly kinetic action and uncompromising vision of dystopia. Set in Australia years after nuclear war has scorched the Earth, the film follows series protagonist Max Rockatansky as he joins a band of women fleeing a brutal warlord. The ensuing chase sets the ugliness of machinery against the beauty of the natural world, as ramshackle vehicles hound each other across the red wastes. As metal clashes and flames erupt, the sound is as important as the explosive visuals, surrounding the audience with a symphony of warfare. Fury Road is an intense two-hour chase sequence underscored by a muscular soundtrack from Junkie XL; it’s a celebration of everything action movies should aspire to be, and one of the best Atmos demonstrations available today.
The old-school action film, rife with gun violence and merciless protagonists, seems like a relic today in a market dominated by family-friendly superhero movies. Perhaps this is why the John Wick films, despite a familiar premise (a badass gunfighter seeks vengeance on those who wronged him), feels so fresh. Starring Keanu Reeves as the titular assassin, John Wick is a pulsing revenge thriller, beautifully shot and anchored by an appropriately grim performance from Reeves. It’s a perfect film for home theater viewing. Exhibit A: a scene wherein Wick massacres his way through a criminal nightclub, the whole scene drenched in red and blue, as a melancholy pop song throbs underneath. Violence has never seemed so beautiful.
After you’ve watched John Wick enough times that you’ve memorized Reeves’ crazy gunplay choreography, you’ll want to move on to the equally great sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2. The sequel picks up right where the original left off, but this time Wick has to fight off a myriad of assassins looking to collect the price on his head. Chapter 2 is more of the same in all the right ways, and every gunshot and gut punch will pulsate beautifully throughout your living room in Dolby Atmos sound.
The Mission Impossible films have never pretended to be anything other than highly entertaining spy thrillers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The latest entry, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, follows the traditions of its predecessors, setting protagonist Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on the hunt for a mysterious international crime syndicate, charging all the while through a series of dangerous, tightly choreographed action scenes. The various set pieces are a treat for the senses, particularly a tense fight in an opera house where the punches, crashes, and other assorted sound effects punctuate a performance of Puccini’s Turandot. There are few films as straightforward in their thrills as Rogue Nation, an explosive spectacle that shows blockbuster filmmaking at its finest.
As brutal as it is heartbreaking, Logan takes Wolverine (and the superhero genre as a whole) into unknown territory, and the film serves as the perfect swan song for the titular character who’s been clawing up bad guys and evil mutants for nearly two decades. Wolverine’s softer side is on full display in Logan, but that doesn’t mean our favorite killer mutant doesn’t show his animal side, too. Hearing the sounds of Wolverine’s claws unleash and slice through a horde of evildoers is as stirring as it is frightening, especially when it’s magnified through a surround sound system that makes you feel like you’re right beside the lone mutant.
After he’s abandoned on Mars with virtually no resources, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) uses his NASA training and wits to help him stay alive and send signals back to Earth. Director Ridley Scott’s sense of magnitude and scope makes Damon’s odyssey through Mars equal parts beautiful and desolate. The soundtrack projected through the Atmos systems gives you a better sense of suspense as the film leads to its adventurous climax, which puts Damon’s character in life or death situations as he’s making split-second decisions and attempting to make his harrowing escape back to Earth. The extended edition of The Martian adds 10 more minutes to the film as well as a plethora of special features.