Sound Mixing is a delicate art that gets more sophisticated every year as filmmakers learn how to take advantage of evolving technology. This year in the right venues, immersive Dolby Atmos surrounded moviegoers watching “A Quiet Place,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.”
Like last year’s Oscar-winning “Dunkirk,” “A Quiet Place” offers a unique soundscape that drives the propulsive narrative. Indeed, filmmaker and star John Krasinski’s horror hit is all about sound and makes brilliant use of silence as a storytelling device. And all the better in Dolby Atmos, in which we become totally immersed in the sonic terror. Make a loud noise and the creatures will pounce and kill you. So it’s not surprising that much of the movie’s success is wrapped around the brilliant sound design in concert with Marco Beltrami’s menacing score.
Krasinski recommended that supervising sound editors Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn (“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”) create sonic points of view — or “envelopes” — for each member of the Abbott family as well as for the creatures, which are blind yet communicate through clicking sounds and navigate with bio sonar similar to dolphins and bats. Different and often annoying levels of feedback became an important part of the sonic signature. The sound team created sounds of trees, wind, and rustling clothes. The creatures have different sonic predatory modes (searching, idling, attack, and pain): as they get agitated, the intensity of their vocals get amped up, so the sound mixers could go from complete silence to 11.
Set in 1971, Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white childhood memoir, “Roma,” follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young domestic worker for a family in Mexico City’s middle-class Roma neighborhood. He makes us aware of the world outside the frame via Dolby Atmos sound design that creates a soundtrack of neighborhood bells, whistles, cars, vendors, dogs, birds and sloshing water.
Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” recreates laconic Neil Armstrong’s (Ryan Gosling) journey to the historic moon landing in 1969, from teeth-rattling and dangerous supersonic test flights and documentary-like Houston home life to rocket blasts into space. “La La Land” carryovers — editor Tom Cross, composer Justin Hurwitz, and supervising sound editors Mildred Iatrou and Ai-Ling Lee — achieve a tactile, visceral impact, along with an otherworldliness.
Rookie filmmaker Bradley Cooper’s intimate, naturalistic remake of “A Star is Born” stars Cooper and Lady Gaga as gifted singer songwriters who fall in love. They not only filmed their performances live at Coachella, the Stagecoach Music Festival, and larger venues in L.A., but also from a back-to-center stage perspective. Sound was integral in keeping us contained inside the world of Jackson and Ally, and sound designer-mixer Steve Morrow provided seamless transitions without audible breaks, and achieved a propulsive soundscape that also benefits from the immersion of Atmos.
“Mary Poppins Returns”
“A Star Is Born”
“A Quiet Place”
“Avengers: Infinity War”