Toronto, Canada (September 10, 2014)—The team at Shakey Pictures had to search through 30 years of archives to restore Neil Young’s Human Highway (Director’s Cut), premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10.
The director’s cut version of Neil Young’s mind-bending 1982 post-apocalyptic musical comedy was conceived in the cauldron of Cold War America. Young writes, directs and stars alongside an eclectic, eccentric cast, including Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Dennis Hopper and members of the band Devo.
Human Highway was painstakingly restored using modern techniques for high-quality sound without violating the intent of the original mix, a task complicated by the fact that some of the original masters were missing. Happily, the team eventually found 16-track reels with isolated dialogue and music as well as the original clean dialogue reels and the original Nagra IV-S machine used during filming.
According to Tamara Johnson, sound designer and re-recording mixer, Post-Apocalyptic Studios, “The background mix is stereo and dialogue and effects, mono. No panning was used; the sound is pure and comes straight up the middle into the audience.”
The film builds to a climactic dream sequence scene where Young and Devo play together. The goal was to shock the audience by introducing new sound elements. “We tried to make this scene larger than life”, said Johnson. “It was vital to have a high-quality surround mix with no phasing or delays, so I used Penteo to upmix backgrounds and music into 5.1 surround.” The crowd surround elements were mixed around the room, effectively giving the audience Young’s point of view.
Elsewhere in the film, an audio technique called “worldizing”—effectively, reamping—was applied to scenes for the director’s cut. Shakey Pictures gave the sound added depth, dimension and realism by playing the audio back in a suitable acoustic space and then re-recording it.