Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Hills Are Alive...With the Sound of Silence

Some DVDs feature a score-only audio track, a bonus I've appreciated on such films as Superman, North by Northwest, and Enter the Dragon, among others It occurs to me that an audio track that included everything but the orchestral score might be just as interesting.

Imagine watching Star Wars, for example, without John Williams' music - just the dialogue and sound effects. How would that transform the experience? I think it might make the movie far less thrilling, but might it not also draw the viewer further into the world of the film, documentary style? Without music, which always breaks the fourth wall, audiences might subconsciously consider the events of the film more "real," even when they're watching science fiction or fantasy films.

Removing the music might also allow the audience to discover whether or not the emotional impact of scenes works without the score. Would Superman's first rescue in Metropolis be as heart-pounding without Williams' rousing music? Would Halloween be as scary without John Carpenter's eerie main theme? I have a feeling that removing the music might actually work with some horror films, since creepy music often telegraphs scares, making them less effective. But most action, fantasy, and science fiction films absolutely depend on their scores to keep the emotional momentum going. And musicals wouldn't work at all, though they might be very amusing to watch...


Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

I love scenes that deliberately leave out score as a means of underscoring or setting the scene apart (the end of Memento for one example), but I think a whole film would suffer terribly. On the other hand, I was more than halfway through reading The Watchmen (in monthly issues, mind)before I realized there were no sound effects in the book whatsoever. None. So maybe it could work. Another fascinating question from the House of Woods!

"Where No Jeff Has Gone Before" said...

It's been a long time since I looked at it, but I believe there's a "director's audio track" on the Alien disc. It's the sound recorded directly from the set as the movie was being filmed, and is not a commentary track.

For dialogue, you want to get as much clear audio from the set as you can, because ADR (automatic dialogue replacement or "looping" dialogue after the fact) is expensive, time-consuming, requires a lot of concentration, and many actors, cattle that they are, resent it.

In any case, Ridley Scott wanted to use blaring orchestral music coming from loudspeakers on the set to manipulate the emotions of the actors. It worked, although they replaced the music with their own score in post-production.

You can also hear various mechanical effects, such as the actors sitting on motorized paint can shakers to simulate turbulence/space acting. The shakers are very loud, and also add to the actors' mounting frustration and dread (Mr. Burns voice: Excellent!)

Secondly, if you ever get ahold of the 1977 Academy Awards on video, the Oscar for score has a segment where they do the final Death Star run without music. Interesting, as a large portion of that sequence doesn't have music anyway, until Red Leader gets his and Luke is left in charge.

Thirdly, you can listen to the entire secondary audio track of "Galaxy Quest". That's an accomplishment in itself.

Lastly, even I have succumbed to including audio in JSVB, but only for the 38th post, and only because it seemed like the logical thing to do. John Williams was unavailable at the time.