Thirty years ago Jurassic Park roared onto cinema screens, ushering in a new era of digital filmmaking. But it wasn’t just its images that benefitted from cutting-edge wizardry, Steven Spielberg’s dino blockbuster was also the first film with a Digital Theatre System soundtrack.
Back in 1993 the format was limited to 5.1, which meant five channels with a dedicated low frequency effects (LFE) track, and the film’s sound designers wisely chose to make full use of that extra ‘.1’ channel. Who can forget the T-Rex attack, where its arrival is heralded by rumbling bass that causes ripples in a glass of water.
The scene is so effective at demonstrating the potential of bass delivered by a subwoofer that I’ve used it for testing and reviewing ever since. But what other classic scenes do I frequently use to check the low-end heft of a sub within a home cinema sound system?
The opening of Edge of Tomorrow has a deep bass note that dips well below 20Hz, so I always use this to blow the cobwebs off any system and sort the subwoofer men from the boys. Most subs can’t necessarily dive to those depths, but it’s a great test of their ability to hit the bottom of their frequency response without losing composure or distorting.
Another great demo scene is towards the end of Kung Fu Panda where Po uses the Wuxi Finger Hold to release a tidal wave of bass… skadoosh! This also digs deep and spreads out through the room, pushing your subwoofer to its limits.
If you want a scene of sustained low-end action, the train crash in Super 8 will quickly reveal any weak spots in your system as the destruction rains down boxcars all around you. It’s a great sequence for bass fans, but is likely to result in your neighbours taking out a restraining order.
The success of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse at the cinema this summer makes for the perfect excuse to rewatch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which employs incredibly deep bass throughout the entire film but especially whenever the giant collider rips a hole in reality.
Finally, Christopher Nolan may eschew spacial audio mixes but he adds unruly amounts of bass into all of his films, particularly the mind-bending temporal thriller Tenet. The scene where a 747 is deliberately crashed into an airport terminal will cause your walls to shake and rafters to rattle as it energises the room with infrasonic sound.
God knows how much LFE Nolan will employ during the Trinity atomic bomb test in his upcoming Oppenheimer, but it’s a safe bet this film will soon be joining the pantheon of classic bass testers.