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Oscars: Evaluating the Best Sound Contenders

Oscars: Evaluating the Best Sound Contenders

1. “The Revenant”: The sound team (led by sound editors Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender and mixers Jon Taylor, Frank Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek) brilliantly make nature a sonic character and immerse us in Leonardo DiCaprio’s intense journey in the most effective way. They found existing sounds (bear vocalizations, trees creaking in the wind) and recorded them in real, appropriate locations. The opening Native American ambush has a natural ebb and flow and a nice lull between the action, with the sound of footsteps, wind blowing in the trees, and distant dogs barking in between each flurry of arrows. Plus, the incredible bear attack was sonically underplayed for greater realism, and getting the breathing right — using the sound of a sick horse toward the end when the bear is injured, for example — was just as important as the vocalizations. And what was that weird, mantra-like sound effect? A frog, slowed down.

READ MORE: “How They Made ‘The Revenant’ into a Transcendent Journey for Leonardo DiCaprio” 

2. “Mad Max: Fury Road”: This was a special journey for the sound team (led by sound editors Mark Mangini, and David White and mixers Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo). Originally, Miller wanted no dialogue; then, no music. Eventually, though, he decided on a sonic vision more akin to an animated movie, with a fully-layered, intrinsic soundscape of dialogue, music (composed by Tom Holkenborg), and background effects. “Moby Dick” even became an allegorical reference, with the War Rig as the white whale and Immorten Joe as Ahab. In fact, when the War Rig got hit with harpoons, they used the sounds of whate blow holes and whale groans to further emphasize the symbolic impact.

READ MORE: “How They Designed the Characters and Sounds for the Oscar-Nominated ‘Mad Max: Fury Road'” 

3. “Sicario”: Sound editor Alan Robert Murphy created a “dynamic realism,” sucking the viewer in, then unnerving us with subliminal low-end bass before assaulting us with percussive hits. This sonic strategy keys in on different characteristics for FBI agent Emily Blunt, the newbie, and Benicio del Toro’s mysterious hit man. Her loneliness is emphasized with isolated undertones, while del Toro was like a rattlesnake with a visceral, concussive, dynamic, silenced shot for his gun.
4. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”: In keeping with J.J. Abrams’ old-and-new hybrid philosophy, the esteemed team of sound editors Matthew Wood and David Acord and mixers Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson not only made use of Ben Burtt’s iconic sounds from the original trilogy but also new ones that were created. The result once again instilled a sense of the familiar with the uniquely futuristic. Thus, Kylo Ren’s cool-looking lightsaber sounds unstable, just like his volatile temperament, which makes it seem even more dangerous, while BB-8 sounds funnier than R2-D2 (thanks in large part to vocal assistance by actor Bill Hader).

READ MORE: “Why ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Should Win the VFX Oscar” 

5. “The Martian”: The sound team (led by sound editor Oliver Tarney and mixers Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, and Mac Ruth) first made invaluable use of actual field recordings from NASA and JPL for the sounds of Mars and the Rover. Then, in keeping with the epic and intimate survival story, they intricately balanced dialogue and effects, paying close attention to Matt Damon’s breathing. Isolated and alone, these are very claustrophobic. But since so much of the sound is transmitted back and forth between Damon and NASA, the team did sonic helmet recreations, re-recorded radio transmissions and created special PA treatments for an authentic soundscape.

READ MORE: “How They Crafted Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ into an Epic and Intimate Journey” 

6. “Bridge of Spies”: Mixers Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Drew Kunin were given a gift by Steven Spielberg by opening with a Hitchcock-inspired chase through the New York subway with no dialogue and a sense of mystery surrounding Soviet spy Mark Rylance (nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Down on the platform they create a few different languages of people passing by to convey the multicultural influence along with the distraction of a giggle or laugh as they walk past the agents. Then, in freezing East Berlin, we observe the Wall being built brick by brick, by hand, and yet it’s the voices of the people that were key because they’re standing there with the Wall separating them from their loved ones.

READ MORE: “How They Mixed the Chilling Sounds for the Oscar-Nominated ‘Bridge of Spies'” 

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