Friday, February 06, 2009

The LAMB Devours The Oscars: Best Achievement in Sound

Editor's note: The Jack Sack is a member of The Large Association of Movie Blogs (LAMB). In an ongoing series of articles covering the 81st Academy Awards, various bloggers submit their posts on a randomly assigned category. This blog drew Best Achievement in Sound. Check LAMB regularly for the rest of the categories. Here's the post:

The Academy Award for Best Achievement in Sound is given for the motion picture having the best mix of the multitude of elements that make up a film's audio. These components generally include dialogue, music, sound effects and atmospheric noise (not to be discounted would be the subliminal messages James Cameron inserted into TITANIC that convinced people to keep seeing his picture). It's not a sexy category, for certain, but without sound a movie would lose its soul. And without the right overall balance of audio elements, a movie would lose its character. Here are the nominees and my take:

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON – David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten

Regular readers of The Jack Sack know that I loathed this movie. But that's not to say that its technical qualities were not outstanding. BUTTON failed dramatically but it certainly deserves recognition for its sound mix. It's audio is traditional big-Hollywood- with a heavy reliance on its sweeping score. There are some scenes, particularly the ambush with the Nazi sub, that are fully engrossing. There is nothing wrong per se with BUTTON's audio, but perhaps my bias against the movie makes me less enthusiastic about its merit.

THE DARK KNIGHT– Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick

Here we... go! KNIGHT's audio left a very large impression on me. Certainly this film benefits from its diverse mix of action and drama, along with the fantastic exploits if its billionaire vigilante, Batman. But the sound is so distinct that it really contributed to the "urban-industrial opera" taking place. Where there was tension, the film's sound delivered high-pitches and rumbling fear perfectly. And where there was tragedy, these emotions were delivered not with sweeping orchestral movements, but with absolutely no audio whatsoever (as was the case when Harvey Dent learned of Rachel Dawes' death). Christopher Nolan's Batman films have defied the superhero genre in all aspects, and sound is chief among those categories. I'll be rooting for this to win.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE – Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty

Danny Boyle's masterpiece depicting the struggle of three youths in the slums of India benefits tremendously from a perfectly-designed audio track. This brutal fable of love and survival could have been dragged down by generic sound mixing. But Danny Boyle is... well pretty awesome, and his team of sound mixers and re-mixers did everything right. Some scenes are haunting (like the bloodshed that claimed a village early on) and others are completely euphoric (where Jamal, the protagonist, finally achieves "freedom" from his demons). The sound in these scenes and others was essential to building the film's wide range of emotions. But not for THE DARK KNIGHT's operatic sound mix, I would choose SLUMDOG as the most worthy nominee.

WALL-E – Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt

This film relies on its audio more than any other one nominated in this category. WALL-E's non-human characters express themselves primarily through their unique sounds. In order for this film to be bearable, let alone wonderful, the sound design needed to be perfect. No pressure, eh Ben Burtt? Well the audio team succeeded tremendously, and this film deserves to win the Best Sound Editing Oscar. But the category we're discussing goes beyond the design of the sound and encompasses the entirety of the film's audio. You can't say anything negative about this film's technical achievements. I wouldn't be surprised if this film wins the category either. I just have a huge crush for that Batman flick... alright, I'll stop gushing.

WANTED – Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

Director Timur Bekmambeto makes obnoxious movies. Some people like this kind of cinema (I admit that I've seen THE ROCK a good dozen times). But WANTED is something devoid of any charm- it's an idiotic film through and through. I cannot render an opinion on its audio mix because I was unable to hear anything over my own grumbles and groans. To be fair, I honestly didn't pay close attention to the sound. It could be good, maybe even great, but ultimately sound exists within the context of the whole motion picture. And unless the sound team muted the dialogue completely, I cannot give them any credit towards making this film "good."

Bottom line prediction: WALL-E will probably win, but put my vote down for THE DARK KNIGHT.


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