Star Trek transcribes the arc of time in Sydney.
'What we didn't want was for people to lose that sense of glory; that sense of being in the Opera House.' Who can doubt David Claringbold's passion for the venue where he works? When Paramount Pictures first spoke to the Technical Director of Sydney Opera House (SOH) he saw their vision in exactly that passionate context. 'What made it extraordinary was that here was a $150 million Hollywood blockbuster about to re-invigorate the Star Trek franchise and they wanted to stage the world premier at the Opera House. For us it came at just the right time and we wanted to be a part of it.'
JJ Abrams, the film's director and prime motive force behind staging the premier in Sydney, had worked in Australia before with Mission Impossible 3; his selection of the Opera House was nonetheless breathtaking and bold. As far removed from Hollywood as it's possible to be (on this planet at least), the iconic location underlined what a truly international audience this much-loved saga attracts. An ambitious step by any measure, it's all the more remarkable for the fact it took just three weeks from concept to completion to pull off. 'We were first contacted on 12th March,' said David, 'With the premier scheduled for the 6th April.' David was too modest to admit it, but Bruce Jackson of Dolby Labs had been approached by Paramount for his opinion of the possibility of using the Concert Hall. 'I told them, "Talk to David",' said Jackson. 'I received a call from the US looking for advice of what best to do if they were to hold an unnamed world movie premier at the SOH. I recommended David Claringbold because I knew his team there would be able to coordinate all the elements and deliver the necessary premium quality job.' Undaunted by the tight time frame David became immediately engaged. 'The timing was right, something had been cancelled in the Concert Hall programme and there was a little gap in the schedule.'
Aesthetically stunning it is, but the SOH Concert Hall is not the ideal location for a potent and emotive soundtrack played through a powerful sound reinforcement system. 'The hall has a reverb time of 2.5 seconds; that was the first thing Bruce and I addressed when we met up the day after the call.' Bruce Jackson takes up the story. 'Dave invited me in for a production meeting to suggest a list of acoustic treatments along the lines of what I've done in dubious environments in the past, such as Wembley Arena and Madison Square Garden. Usually production managers cringe at spending the kind of money it takes to completely transform an environment but David and Paramount went with it one hundred percent and we agreed to use a d&b sound system for which the results spoke for themselves.'
'While we attended to acoustics, Ralf Zuleeg from d&b audiotechnik's education and application support department put together the system plots,' continued David. 'It was based on a L/C/R d&b J-Series deployment with the surround system being mainly the compact d&b Q7 loudspeaker, while 16 J-SUBs handled the low frequency energy. Peter Puchner from Visual Event Management was the outside party to run the premier; they, at our direction, brought in IJS to install the d&b system, with additional PA equipment support from Cairellie.'
Fast and furious was the event evolution, but it was never going to be straightforward, as David explained, 'The fact is we've been approached to do things like this before. But never before had I felt on solid ground with the available technology and support. This is the culmination of the total reinvigoration of the technical department here. Led by Jeremy Christian, my sound supervisor, they were able to deliver this calmly and efficiently.'
Paramount was thrilled. 'It is incredibly rare in the arts and entertainment industry for a prestigious concert venue to allow the necessary modifications that would create the proper cinema audio experience,' said Ben Rosenblatt, post-production executive at Paramount. 'The Sydney Opera House did not only allow it, but they amazingly led the charge, and the result was a complete transformation of a premiere concert hall to a world-class movie theatre.' Andy Nelson, who mixed the film, was equally pleased: 'The end result was very satisfying, and the filmmakers were thrilled at the overall effect. Major kudos to David Claringbold and Bruce Jackson.'
David Claringbold was anxious to return the compliment. 'It was the energy of the client, Paramount, that drove us all. Paul Lawrence, who came over from Paramount in the UK, was a great support, and the fact that Andy Nelson, the film's mixer, had done similar events before gave me real confidence. But it was still a leap of faith.' Such leaps of faith are what this premier was all about; if Sydney Opera House serves as a metaphor for Star Trek, it's this. The harnessing of technology, emotion and imagination by architect Jørn Utzon, is what produced this exquisite building. As the Opera House is inspiring to the viewer, so too the whole concept of travelling to the stars; and who wouldn't want to do it aboard the Starship Enterprise?