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Sound investment

Many 'Menace' auds to hear 9-channel system

What does the whoosh of a Naboo Royal N-1 Starfighter sound like in nine-channel digital sound?

Many “Star Wars” fans will have a chance to find out starting Wednesday, as theaters equipped with both eight-channel Sony Dynamic Digital Sound and the new Dolby Digital Surround EX begin showing the latest installment of the sci-fi epic.

LucasFilm opted to mix “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in SDDS’s optional eight-channel mode, which provides two additional front channels in theaters with the requisite equipment. Surround EX, which makes its debut with “Menace,” adds another channel in the center rear of the auditorium.

That’s nine speakers full of exploding battle droids and buzzing lightsabers.

Immersion technique

“We want audiences to become completely immersed in the movie,” said “Menace” producer Rick McCallum. “This meant filling up the theater with a more articulate, spatial soundtrack, using as many channels as possible.”

While there are more than 1,150 eight-channel SDDS systems worldwide, so far, relatively few films have been mixed in eight-channel sound. Recent examples include “Godzilla,” “The Mask of Zorro,” “Men in Black,” “Still Crazy” and “Out of Sight.”

“Menace” marked the first eight-channel mix for Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom.

‘Greater flexibility’

“Having the five channels across the front gave me an even greater flexibility to isolate and highlight important effects elements, enhance the beauty of the score and keep all the dialogue crystal clear,” said Rydstrom, who also is director of creative operations for Skywalker Sound.

Theaters planning to play the films in both SDDS and Surround EX include the AMC Burbank 14 and Promenade 16 in Los Angeles, the UA Union Square in New York, and the AMC 1000 Van Ness in San Francisco.

“Sony developed SDDS and its eight-channel feature especially for such innovative filmmakers as George Lucas and his team, who strive to lift moviegoers out of their own environments and into another world,” said Gary Johns, president and chief operating officer of SDDS maker Sony Cinema Products Corp.