The Best Dolby Atmos Blu-ray Demo Scenes (Pt 2)

I’ve been fortunate enough to watch nearly every Dolby Atmos-encoded Blu-ray disc that has been released so far and while some of the movies are terrific (Gravity) others are more just things you suffer through (Jupiter Ascending). To save you some time trying to find the best scenes to demo, I’m gonna pinpoint each film’s marquee Atmos audio moment—as I did in a previous post where I reviewed the best scenes from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, John Wick, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Gravity, American Sniper, and Jupiter Ascending.

(Caution: Spoilers ahead…)

The Gunman
Atmos Moment: The Country House Ambush
This is an interesting movie that has some decent action and a totally shredded Sean Penn, clearly getting jacked for his meeting with El Chapo. The film’s marquee demo is found in Chapter 11 at the 57-minute mark and lasts about seven minutes. The first gun shots come in big and loud from the front right as Felix (Javier Bardem), Terrier (Sean Penn), and Annie (Jasmine Trinca) are attacked by multiple assailants. It’s a terrific demo scene with a ton of action and intensity and culminates in an amazing inferno of audio as fire crackles all around the room. Be warned, the scene is pretty brutal, especially near the beginning where Felix takes a rather unfortunate gunshot to the head, so demo it with care. The battle rages around the estate, resulting in shattering glass, splintering wood, and the tinkling of falling brass around the room putting Atmos’ object tracking to wonderful use. Throughout all the mayhem the dialog remains clear and understandable.

The scene concludes with Terrier and Annie trapped in a bathroom, where the bad guys pour in a flammable substance and then light the room on fire. I had always thought that Atmos ceiling speakers were truly made to convey overhead rain sounds, but after hearing how well they are employed to handle the roaring fire of this scene, I’m willing to rethink that. The flames ignite with a whomp! that seethes through the room and then continues as the fire burns and rages all around, crackling right through your listening position. The fire billows and swirls and boils all around the room, raging overhead and leaping from speaker to speaker, putting you right in the middle of the inferno and sucking all the air from the viewing space.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Atmos Moment: The Amity Sim
You’d expect some decent audio from this dystopian thriller, and the disc delivers. Plus the audio mixers really utilize Atmos to deliver some extra spaciousness and atmosphere. My favorite demo is actually a two-part scene starting around 1 hour 28 minutes and then concluding again about 10 minutes later. In the first part, Tris (Shailene Woodley) is taunted by Jeanine (Kate Winslet) into attacking her and we get a lot of dialog that shifts in tonal quality and location based on the POV on screen and that room’s acoustics. When Jeanine speaks, her voice is often heard out of the ceiling via the speakers that Tris would be hearing, whereas Tris’s voice is muffled and dulled by the acoustics of the chamber she is in.

When Tris finally attacks, she dives through the glass barrier causing glass to shatter, cascade, and sprinkle all around the room. When Tris is digitally transported into the sim, we are treated to some awesome 3D as she is falling out of the sky. The screen is filled with 3D overhead views of the city, delivering terrific depth. All around Tris the buildings are shattering, disintegrating, and collapsing, and the audio fills the room with sounds of rubble and debris careening all around and overhead. The scene is also filled with awesome, tight, deep bass from multiple explosions. Part two of the fight happens when Tris decides to complete the Amity sim and she is forced to battle the deadliest version of herself.

The scene begins with Evil Tris jumping through a glass window that shatters around the room and then slamming Good Tris through a wall. They are once again transported into the collapsing city as they fight from building to building with Evil Tris battering and punching Good Tris through walls and floors and buildings in a very Matrix-style superhuman battle. Evil Tris is finally defeated by peace—Amity—and she dissolves. This causes The Box to unlock and open, revealing the true meaning of the city and factions and Divergents, setting the scene for Allegiant, the trilogy’s climatic conclusion.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Atmos Moment: War Boys Chase the War Rig
This entire movie is a paean to the glories of Dolby Atmos. And what a disc, what a lovely disc! This entire movie is a demo, from the moment you press start until the end credits roll. Virtually every scene is filled with sonic mayhem and glorious cacophony. But if you have to pick a favorite moment, this scene is as good as any. Near the 17-minute mark, the War Boys leave the Citadel in pursuit of Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her War Rig. The chase begins with a truck racing up from the back of the room and launching over the viewer’s head and they race after her amidst a throbbing guitar and drum driven soundtrack that reminded me of a Blue Man Group show, including the war party being spurred on by the (totally awesome) Coma-Doof Warrior, a flame throwing guitar player strapped to a rig that has a speaker array that would be the envy of any coliseum’s PA.

Vehicles are constantly exploding, with machines and people cartwheeling overhead through the ceiling speakers, or whipping past along the sides of the room, or racing up from behind. And the sound mixer, God bless him, never misses a single chance to convey every scrape, collision, or flaming moment of the glorious destruction. The vehicles and weapons have an insane amount of fabrication and creativity with nitrous boosters, exploding lances, circular saw blades attached to hydraulic arms, vehicles covered in porcupine-like spikes, fire grenades, and sawed-off shotguns, and all impart their own color to the majestic sonic tapestry.

At 21:45 a War Boy lancer throws a spear that passes right through the room and whistling past your head, and then at 27 minutes the party races into a massive sand and lightning cyclone storm that whistles and roars around the room. A vehicle gets swept up into one of the swirling vortexes and spins around the room before being thrown over your head and into the back wall behind you. The scene ends as Max is thrown from his vehicle and blacks out.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Atmos Moment: Meet the Master
At 23 years old, you might think Dracula an odd choice for Sony to select for one of its first Dolby Atmos releases. But the film received a full 4K transfer and new Atmos soundtrack that, according to Sony’s press release has been “remixed specifically for the home theater environment, delivers captivating sound that places and moves audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.”

The film really takes advantage of the overhead speakers to deliver some creepy ambience that sets the scene, especially in Dracula’s (Gary Oldman) castle. At the start of chapter 2 we see Renfield (Tom Waits) talking to an unseen master at the lunatic asylum. While he is talking you can track the progress of a fly buzzing clearly around the circumference of the room. And then you hear the fly distinctly buzzing up overhead, directly over the listening space to the right of the room, as Renfield reaches up to pick the fly off the ceiling and eat it. In the background emanating from all the walls are the moans of other unfortunate souls.

At 10 minutes in, a coach drops Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) off in the middle of nowhere with the sounds of desperate, hungry wolves crying and growling all around the room as they stalk the coach. Thunder booms and cracks overhead, and when the coach pulls into Dracula’s castle, the heavy iron gates roll closed from the floor to ceiling and ceiling to floor, closing us off from the outside world. As we get our first look at Dracula and his castle, the room is filled with tons of atmospheric audio effects.

Throughout our time in the castle, we hear the constant sounds of wailing souls traveling around the room and overhead, the drip of water, the groan of walls, and the skittering of rats and other unseen, nasty creatures around the room, from side to side and overhead. Much of it is subtle but it does a wonderful job of creating the eerie, other-worldly soundstage of the castle.

San Andreas
Atmos Moment: Restaurant Destruction
San Andreas is another big budget, special effects driven film that has no shortage of major scenes that show off what a good surround system can do. Plus, the massive, low frequency rumble of the quakes will test the very limits of what your subwoofer is able to handle. With a good system, you should come pretty close to feeling an actual earthquake in your floor! Plus, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson makes a pretty believable every day, superhuman.

Near the 32-minute mark in chapter four another tremor hits and the scene cuts back and forth between a restaurant, offices at Caltech, and a San Francisco office building. While in the restaurant there are the sounds of screams from all around, and glass shaking and knocking together overhead as the quake begins, and then desks and walls rattling as people scurry to safety under their desks at Caltech. At the 34-minute mark we cut to the office building in San Francisco as a limo holding Blake (Alexandra Daddario) tries to race out of the building, while the underground garage starts collapsing. It doesn't make it. The overhead speakers do a great job conveying the chunks of the building falling down all around you, putting you in the garage. When the billionaire boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), gets out of the limo you get some nice groaning of girders overhead and around the room as the building strains under the damage.

At 36 minutes, there is a mass exodus of people leaving the building's lobby with screaming and moaning all around. The scene cuts back to the restaurant, as Emma (Carla Gugino) tries to make it up to the ceiling while the room literally collapses and falls apart all around you. There's a constant cacophony of screams, falling bodies, groaning concrete, raining debris, and a steady bass rumble that will flutter your pants. After the big shaking is over at the 40-minute mark, you get some really nice subtle atmospherics of things falling and settling back into place before Ray (Johnson) comes roaring up in his helicopter to save the day. Of course, things are never that easy, and fireballs start erupting, the flames billowing up into the ceiling and combining with the steady whirr of the helicopter. The entire scene runs about 12 minutes with almost no slow bits, and ends at 44 minutes in classic, "Only happens in Hollywood!" style with a chunk of falling building whacking the helicopter, causing it to spin out of control, moving violently around the room.

mikem's picture

San Andreas is the best sound effect movie I've seen, and HEARD, in a long time.

FrankReed's picture

Generally, I agree with this list, all these scenes are perfect, considering the year of filming. But from them, all the scene from Dracula is standing out, in my opinion. There's not much action in comparison with others from the list, but it's really deep and tragic. I'm sure that a lot of students are writing the best essays on its topic or at least similar ones. It's really deep and noteworthy.