Brave World Premier

Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend the world premier of Brave, the latest animated feature from Disney and Pixar that will open nationwide on June 22. The star-studded event was held at the newly renamed Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards and Cirque du Soleil's Iris located in the heart of Hollywood, California.

The paparazzi were out in force—some wearing bright red wigs to mimic the movie's heroine—snapping pics, shooting video, and trying to interview the voice cast and other VIPs as they strolled down the red carpet and stopped every few feet to strike poses for the cameras.

As you can see, the red carpet was actually green, as I've seen on other such occasions. Perhaps this symbolizes Hollywood's eco-consciousness, though I don't know that for sure. (At the Grammys several years ago, the carpet was green because one of the major sponsors of the event was Heineken beer.) Lined with onlookers hoping for a glimpse of someone famous, it led attendees from the street to the entrance of the Dolby Theatre, where all cameras were confiscated until after the movie. Interestingly, we were allowed to keep our cell phones as long as we promised to turn them off. (Yeah, right!)

Brave is the first movie with a soundtrack mixed in Dolby Atmos, a new sound format for commercial cinema that places speakers all around the theater as well as overhead. The mixing engineer specifies the location and movement of each sound-emitting object—up to 128 at any given moment—and the system reproduces these sounds in the appropriate speakers. (For more on Dolby Atmos, see my write-up here.)

Unfortunately, my seat was near the back of the first balcony, with the second balcony close overhead, so I could not hear the effect of the speakers suspended above the main orchestra level. Also, there was some bass buildup in that relatively enclosed space, and the overall timbre of the system was a bit harsh. But as I was informed by one of the techs, the venue was not designed to be a movie theater, so they could only do so much to make it sound as good as possible.

To its credit, Dolby had installed secondary overhead speakers in our section, so I was able to get a good idea of how the Atmos system performs. And despite the problems mentioned above, it performed quite well. Birds and arrows were very convincing as they flew overhead, as were the sounds coming from the upper floors of the castle. The overall sense of envelopment was definitely a big improvement over conventional surround sound.

Everyone was screened for security before entering the theater, but I managed to sneak in my sound-level meter. The average level over an hour and 41 minutes was 83.3dBA with a maximum level within 1-minute intervals of 102.0dBA. The level remained above 87.5dBA 10 percent of the time, 80.5dBA 33 percent of the time, 76.5dBA 50 percent of the time, and 65.5dBA 90 percent of the time. This is all within OSHA standards, and I didn't feel the need to wear my earplugs.

Visually, the movie is gorgeous with exquisite 3D, as you would expect from Pixar animation. It was presented in Dolby 3D, which uses slightly different colors of red, green, and blue for each eye and passive glasses that allow only the corresponding set of RGB to reach the left and right eye. (For more on Dolby 3D, see my write-up here.)

I like the idea of this technique, in part because it does not require a special screen like polarized systems do, and the image looks very good with excellent color and no crosstalk. However, I often see fuzzy ghosts around the screen that I attribute to reflections between my prescription glasses and the Dolby glasses, something I don't see with RealD or Imax 3D.

As for the movie itself, I'm not giving anything away by saying it's a classic hero's journey—with a female hero. Set in medieval Scotland, free-spirited Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald), first-born daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), objects to her arranged betrothal to one of the sons of the three rival clan chiefs. Her attempt to change her fate has unintended consequences, and she must overcome insurmountable odds to set things right. It's a delightful story with lots of comedy that is worthy of Pixar's exemplary reputation, and it will appeal to young and old alike.

After the show, I was allowed into the projection room, where I snapped this iPhone photo of the two Christie 4230 4K DLP digital-cinema projectors used to present the movie. With an output of 34,000 lumens each (!), they were firing onto a 60-foot-wide Harkness screen. The DCP (Digital Cinema Package) file was played from a Dolby DSS200 server at a native resolution of 2K, which the projectors upscaled to 4K internally.

I was not allowed to photograph the Atmos rendering hardware, so Dolby provided this snapshot of that rack, which direct the sounds to the appropriate speakers.

In true Hollywood fashion, a huge party followed the movie in the Ray Dolby Ballroom. The entertainment included several Scottish performers, including the Los Angeles Scots Pipe Band, seen here with Drum Major Ken Misch—a pediatrician by day—saluting during "Scotland the Brave."

As you might imagine, a band with four bagpipes and four drums is pretty loud, especially in a closed room, albeit a very large room. Sadly, I had already put my sound meter in my car, and I didn't want to go get it because I would have missed most of the performance. But I would guess the level was easily in the high 80s if not pushing 90dBA or more. I definitely wore my earplugs during the band's performance!

Around the periphery of the ballroom were several activity stations, including haggis tasting. What's haggis, you ask? A traditional Scottish "delicacy" made of sheep's heart, liver, and lungs seasoned and stuffed in a sheep's stomach. As you can see here, there weren't many takers, making the young lady assigned to that station one of the loneliest people at the party.

On the other hand, there were plenty of partygoers bellying up to the scotch-whiskey tasting station, including me. We sampled three different vintages of scotch from Glenlivet—10 years old, 15 years old, and 18 years old, the last one directly from the casks in Scotland and 107 proof (over 50 percent alcohol!). The taste of each was very different, but all were delicious in their own way.

As I mentioned at the top, Brave opens nationwide on June 22. In most theaters, the soundtrack will be played in conventional 7.1, but if you happen to live near one of the 14 theaters equipped with Dolby Atmos, see it there—you won't be disappointed!

For a list of theaters with Dolby Atmos, click here.

Jarod's picture

Very, very cool Scott! Your so lucky! I may have to make a road trip this weekend to Kansas City to see Brave at the AMC BarryWoods 24 to check out both the movie and Dolby Atmos.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
How far is it from where you live to Kansas City? If you do make the trek, be sure you know which theater among the (presumably) 24 has the Atmos system. Also, please let us know what you think of the experience. Enjoy!
Jarod's picture

Thanks Scott I will for sure call before and ask which theater. KC is bout 4 hours from where I live. My wife and I are for sure going on Saturday. I'm am SUPER excited to hear what Dolby Atmos can do along with seeing Brave. We are huge Pixar fans. I will for sure let you know the outcome.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I look forward to hearing what you think. Why not make a weekend getaway of it? That's what I'd do if it was a 4-hour drive for me...
Jarod's picture

Yes good idea think we will do just that. Found out that Dolby Atmos was installed in there ETX theater along with show times.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I assume that Atmos is in the ETX theater at the Burbank 16 as well. I'll confirm it, of course, but your comment supports that assumption. ETX is great for 3D as well, since it uses two projectors.

Even though Dolby claims that Atmos widens the sweet spot to include the entire audience, I'd still try to get seats near the middle of the room. Enjoy!

Jarod's picture

What I time we had! Will post comments bout Dolby Atmos in Brave poll thread. We did indeed set in the middle. Odly the ETX room only had one projector with a RealD XL 3D filer. I could stand on back seat and see into booth.

Chris Chiarella's picture
Scott, one of the things that's cool about you is that you probably got as much of a kick (more?) from checking out the gear as rubbing elbows with Hollywood's most glamorous. The Scotch tasting probably falls somewhere in the middle. ;-) Man, Disney knows how to throw a party!