Thursday, March 2, 2017

Goodbye 2016: A Year in Film, Pt. I - SOUND

Most people think each year ends on December 31st, but it actually varies. For example, the godforsaken year that was 2016 ended on February 26th, 2017, as celebrated at the 89th Academy Awards ceremony. I am officially ready to bid the film year adieu.

To kick things off, we'll honor the oft-overlooked world of soundscapes. Hard to notice when they're good, impossible to miss when they're bad.


Sound editing is the production of individual sound effects, from the recording process to the post-production polish. Some runners-up: I'm a sucker for ocean sounds, and Finding Dory, Moana, and The Shallows had those in abundance. Same goes for space battles and  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Trek Beyond. PEW PEW PEW! And finally a shoutout to the battle scenes of the surprisingly decent 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Michael Bay can do some things right.

The nominees are...

Arrival: The heptapods are amazing. Mysterious, seemingly benign, but maybe not. The sound design captures this perfectly, with whale-like calls that are once familiar and foreign. Comforting but also deeply unknown.

Deepwater Horizon: The disaster unfolds bit by bit, allowing the audience to observe every piece of the rig's failing machinery. The screeching metal and unstoppable mud flows are almost as startling as the explosions, which just about blow you out of your seat.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: For the signature sounds of the franchise and the new creatures of otherworldly descent. The beasts are such fun, imbued with distinct personalities. And I'm still not tired of the magical sounds of every spell cast.

Hacksaw Ridge: I never lost what was going on in those crucial battle scenes, and there is a lot going on. People firing in the distance, people sneaking up and attacking at close range. The rain of gunfire is effectively juggled.

Zootopia: Everything pops. You just know the sound editors were having a good time coming up with the designs for all these animals. You can literally hear the little details. My personal favorite: the pitter-patter footsteps of the tiny creatures.

And the winner is...



Sound mixing involves the blending of multiple audio elements -- dialogue, music, sound effects -- into one final mix for the film. Sully has impressive moments with its repeated plane crash scenes. I also would have loved to include Hacksaw Ridge for its aforementioned balancing act, or Deepwater Horizon for its punches of sonic terror, but I simply ran out of room.

The nominees are...

Arrival: Again, the heptapods. But also, the canaries. And the breathing. And the intercoms. Everything here is mixed to optimum effect. Sound as a source of tension.

The Jungle Book: Effectively convinces the audience that we are in the jungle, home to ever-present life. There is careful emphasis on the animals' calls and roars, as well as wonderfully realistic nature sounds.

La La Land: The musical numbers are wonderful, and in the interim, you rarely lose the tunes bouncing in the background. Fortunately it functions as a mood-setting device rather than a distraction.

The Shallows: The waves! The shark! The screams! The birds! The sound team here really knows how to disorient you. Especially incredible work in that first shark attack.

The Witch: Easily the creepiest use of sound I encountered all year. Much of the film is eerily quiet, so when a goat bleats or the crunches under someone's feet, it adds to the sense of dread.

And the winner is...


Next up: MUSIC


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