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Les Miserables Calmes

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(Can you tell I still don't speak French?)

I finally went to see the movie of Les Miz the other day. Been meaning to see it since it came out, but didn't get around to it in the first couple weeks, and then was made less interested by the reviews I saw, which said it was only okay, and complained about the huge-face closeups.

But I wanted to see it before it left theatres, so I went the other night, with reduced expectations.

And overall I thought it was a fine rendition of the show. It included a few bits (from the book, I think) that clarified otherwise-muddy plot points (like the fact that Marius is from a wealthy family), and I thought all of the singing and acting were fairly good, and I wasn't bothered by the two or three tight closeups that I noticed.

What I was bothered by was the volume level.

The movie just wasn't loud enough. I'm not a fan of theatres that turn up the volume so loud you can't hear yourself think, but a big show-stopping musical number should have sound that fills the theatre. Whereas the whole movie sounded to me like my TV does when the volume is turned down a little too low. None of it was inaudible; but it never felt rich or full or quite loud enough.

I realized that this was going to bug me throughout the whole movie, so during “Castle on a Cloud”—probably my least-favorite song in the show—I snuck out and ran to the ticket booth, and asked them to come and check on the volume in that theatre. They said they would, so I ran back, and took a different seat, much closer to the screen. But they must have decided that the levels were set right, 'cause nothing changed.

Which leaves me with a few theories for possible explanations:

  • My hearing is getting worse. I've seen evidence of this lately; in particular, I find it even harder than I always have to hear conversation in a noisy restaurant. It may be time for me to start picking up assistive-listening devices when I attend movies and shows. On the other hand, I could hear the audience making little trying-to-be-quiet shuffling and coughing noises during the songs, even the big energetic songs.
  • The volume really was set too low, and either they didn't check it or their check didn't reveal the problem.
  • The overall volume was fine, but there was something wrong with the bass. I realized a couple days after the movie that the richness of sound that I was listening for is something I associate with bass (Kam said bass is “the umami of sound”); maybe their low-sound speakers were out, or too quiet.
  • The movie itself just doesn't have the sound I'm looking for. Some of the singers did seem a little weak, and I've found at least three different people posting in blogs and forums that they found the instruments a little too quiet. I wonder if the recording technique (recording the songs live on set rather than recording them separately and lip-syncing) and the speak-a-bunch-of-lines-instead-of-singing-them approach resulted in quieter and less Epic songs than I would expect.

So I'm curious, those of you who've seen the movie: did you have any issues with the volume?

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