Watching Dune On IMAX Is Even Better When The Sound Cuts Out

No spoilers. But I saw Dune at the BFI IMAX in London Waterloo last night. And as impressive as the film is on such a large screen, emphasising the kind of things that people are arguing about online, there's a fair bit of discussion about the use of sound, but not about its absence.  It was something I found rather powerful and a creative choice by Denis Villeneuve that I suddenly wanted to write about. Apologies, everyone, you are here now; you might as well keep going.

Dune: Promising Statement For Part Two Plus 3 New Posters
Dune Poster. Copyright: © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Because, yes, there is a lot of sound in Dune. The singing, the chanting, the use of command voice, the religious and military ceremonies, the beat of the dragonfly-copter wings, the thump of worms, the clash of the shields, but there's more than that. Throughout the film, there is a low-level hubbub. Machines, sand, air, what I am told is next-generation IMAX precision sound; it all helped create that immersive soundscape in which something is always making a noise, until a handful of specific moments when it is suddenly not. The sound cuts out completely, and the general hubbub that you had gotten used to has gone. It is haunting, disturbing, effectively grabbing the attention, makes you focus more on those silent moments on the edge of your seat before the underlying drone floods back in. And they seem to coincide with Paul Atreides' spice-addled visions, whether giving us a preview of Dune: Part Two, identifying a weapon of minor destruction, or looking at a woman in a pretty dress until that vision is ended.

This is the kind of trick that cinema can do very well. It even stopped the popcorn chompers because, for that moment, we are part of the soundtrack. We are duty-bound to be as quiet as the screen, holding on for whatever comes next. The absence of our sound contributed to the absence of sound on the screen. Last night, in the totally full IMAX screen, every single seat in the auditorium filled, we all held our breaths through those moments, the anticipation almost unbearable. If someone's mobile phone had gone off in those beats, no court in the land could have convicted whatever collective punishment the mob might have handed out to the guilty parties.

It also reminded me of a trick that Ed Piskor used in the X-Men: Grand Designs comics of late. Creating a retro-style comic book, the background colour between all the panels and the colour of speech and thought balloons was all a faded yellow as if the comic book itself was aged. And then, he would use actual white to highlight figures, to show light exploding out of the page. It's the same white that you'd get in any other comic, but we got used to the yellow reading the pages, and suddenly, the pure white would shine out from the panels, even hurting our eyes.

Seeing Dune On IMAX Is Even Better When There Is No Sound
X-Men: Grand Designs by Ed Piskor

Anyway, thanks for humouring me; I can guarantee that no one else had compared Ed Piskor's X-Men comics to the IMAX soundscape of Dune until now. That's the thing about Bleeding Cool; you always get something new.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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