I’ve always been fascinated with sound. Not just with music, or with TV and film soundtracks, but with the sound effects used in the productions as well. From the hiss of a lightsaber in Star Wars to the meaty thump of an Earth Alliance ship firing in Babylon 5, there have always been some scenes I re-watch time and time again just for the sounds.
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is a documentary from director and industry stalwart Midge Costin, who is a sound editor as well, having worked on Armageddon, Crimson Tide and The Rock to name but a few, and writer Bobette Buster (Camp Nowhere, Behind the Red Door). It’s full of people just like me, with a love for sound and music, and is a delight for anyone with even the slightest interest in the history of sound, music, and sound effects in movies.
The story is told through interviews with directors, composers and sound designers alike, and as with previously reviewed documentaries Memory: The Origins of Alien and In Search of Darkness there’s a veritable who’s-who of industry veterans including Christopher Nolan, George Lucas, David Lynch, Ben Burtt, Walter Murch and many, many more, all sharing their experiences.
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Starting with the era of silent movies and then moving on to the explosion of the “talkies” it charts a path through not just the evolution of the technology, but the evolution of the art. From static sound libraries that studios would recycle again and again in every film to true sound design, to music and effects tailored specifically for each film; from cutting soundtracks manually to the rise of computers and digital tools allowing greater freedom than had ever been thought possible.
There are lots of lovely little titbits of information to be found here. Like the fact that the jets in Top Gun don’t actually sound quite like that in the real world, but have had the roars of wild animals mixed in to give them a bit more OOMPH. It looks at the famous restaurant scene from The Godfather, equating the screech of trains outside to the chaotic mindset of Michael Corleone before he pulls the trigger and changes his life forever. As Walter Murch says within this documentary “What you’re listening to are Michael’s neurons clashing against each other.” This documentary shows how much can be said without words, communicated through the subtle layers of audio within a scene.
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The final half hour or so of the documentary shifts to look at the specifics of a film’s soundtrack, highlighting not just the music, but all the different aspects that go into the sound of a film; all the different layers and departments that come together to create the sound of a modern movie, from the actor’s dialogue, explaining and showing examples of things like ADR, as well as the sound effects, even explaining just what on earth a “foley” effect is as well!
Making Waves breaks down the idea that all you need to do is show up and point a microphone at something, or that the music is the only thing that matters. It showcases the challenges, the brilliance and the talent of all these unsung heroes who have brought us the sounds that have become part of our shared consciousness, and does so in a way that is informative and entertaining without ever feeling like an info-dump or a lecture. Making Waves is highly recommended for anyone who has even a passing interest into what goes into creating the audio landscape of the movies we watch today.