Sound investment

State-of-the-art sound technology is bringing the mutliplex into the living room.

Having made the jump to DVD, King Kong will certainly look a little smaller on home screens, but there's no reason for him to sound smaller.

Greater care and attention are increasingly being paid to the way sound is handled when a film is transferred to DVD. For a film to have maximum artistic and emotional impact in one's home-viewing environment, the delicate balance of score, dialogue, sound effects and sound design perfected for theatrical sound systems must be remixed and remastered for today's growing state-of-the-art home systems. That kind of work is still frequently done on studio lots, but there also are several independent "boutique" businesses doing expert work in the field.

One of the most successful of these is 8-year-old Mi Casa Multimedia, which has done pioneering DVD sound work for Lionsgate, MGM, Miramax and New Line, among others. Mi Casa's projects have included the 2001-03 "The Lord of the Rings" DVD trilogy and a collection of classic James Bond movies. Current work includes a restored version of the 1984 horror classic "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and an extended cut of Terence Malick's 2005 historical epic "The New World."

"We're working in a technical field, but for us, we're never working on product -- it's art," Mi Casa co-founder Robert Margouleff says. "We want to make sure that a filmmaker's vision is as fully realized as it can possibly be, and that, in the new format, the audio inhabits the same space the listener is in. We try to bring a musician's sensibility to the DVD process and try to create something with great sound that flows in a smooth and balanced way from the menu to the film to the commentaries to all the supplementals, just like a music album."

The work involves more than just adjusting faders on a mixing console. The sonic ambiance of every scene of a film must be checked, and the blend of all sound elements is often completely rebalanced. In addition, particular car is taken to let a composer's score do its work.

"We don't change the score itself,' Mi Casa partner Brant Biles says. "The events in a film should line up with the score just as the composer and director intended. As far as the quality of the score recordings, the engineers that work theatrical scoring sessions do a great job and get it right. But what was balanced in the theater may not work for the home theater. We go through very carefully making sure that the score works well with all the other elements."

Working with a score can be more complicated when a DVD includes deleted scenes for which no score cues exist. In those cases, a sound studio might quickly become a recording studio, with missing pieces of score created on the spot. In the case of Mi Casa's work on the James Bond films, it took some serious detective work to track down original master tapes of John Barry's score recordings, from which a state-of-the-art DVD mix could be created.

Margouleff simply wants the DVD audience to treat their ears as well as their eyes. "People are always talking about how great their TV picture is, but that's only half the experience," he says. "Our company motto is, 'High-def audio for high-def video.' If a movie's going to look great on DVD, there's no reason it can't sound great, too."