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Oscars 2010: Sound Editing Sound-Off

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This is one of those categories that has always confused me. Why? Well, put it next to Sound Mixing and the names just strike me as being very similar. So, I did a little reading and I think I have come to an understanding about these two categories. Editing covers the recording and creation of the sounds, including voices, sound effects, and other incidental noises. On the other hand, Sound Mixing centers on those who take all of the recorded sounds and mix the levels and make the movie work from a sound perspective. It is an interesting distinction and one that seems to make sense considering how important both of them are to the finished product.

In any case, this look into the 2010 Oscars centers on the Sound Editing category. Knowing more about what it entails made me realize just how fascinating a category it can be. It also goes by the name Sound Design and involves the work of a lot of people including the foley artists who create so many of those sounds. You see, not all sound is recorded on location; while that is a part of the process, it is not always usable and some sounds need to be recorded in a studio while others need to be created from scratch.

The award first appeared in 1963 and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World won. The first few years saw two films nominated each year until the award disappeared for seven years before being replaced with a special achievement award for a few years. Nominations reappeared in 1982 when E.T. defeated Das Boot and Poltergeist (wow, I didn’t realize it was quite that old). It would then run nearly uninterrupted with two or three nominated films each year until 2006 when the number of nominees expanded to five films.

This year has a pretty good crop of films up for the award. In alphabetical order: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, and Up. Although, I do have to admit that one of those films seems to stick out. Can you tell which one it is? If you do, what would you replace it with? I would replace it with District 9.

Now, here they are ordered in the way I expect them to finish:

Inglourious Basterds

This is a fantastic film and I really believe that it will only grow in estimation in years to come. That said, I do not really see it as a contender here. Yes, the sound is very good and I am sure a lot of work went into creating these sounds and making it sound authentic. However, when I see it next to the other nominees, it does not seem all that impressive. Perhaps I need to revisit Tarantino’s revisionist/ode to film movie. It really is fantastic and delivers on all counts. Still, I do not see it winning here. I suspect, aside from Supporting Actor, its best hope for victory lies with its screenplay.

Star Trek

This is a movie I wish I could place higher on the list. The sounds in this new take on Star Trek are simply fantastic. I think my enjoyment may have something to do with already being a fan of the franchise. The team did a fantastic job creating sounds that were an homage to the source while also feeling modern and in line with what we expect from a current film. The original series admittedly has a lot of cheese to go with it and if they wanted to be true to that, the new film could have been disastrous. Now, besides the authenticity of the sounds, a lot of work went into creating these sounds and there are a lot of good ones to be found from various computer blips to the ship noises and from phasers to transporters, lots of sounds created from scratch.

Up

Animated films are always interesting cases. There is no location audio to work with as there are no locations! Yes, I know that is obvious, but doesn’t that make the work all the more impressive? All of the dialogue is recorded in a sound booth and all other sound effects and incidentals need to be created from nothing. The only frame of reference they have is the film itself. Yes, that should be enough, but think about making sure all of the elements fit, from footfalls, to voices, to the air and background ambiance, not to mention any other effects in a given scene. This is very good work, although perhaps not Pixar’s best in this category (I think that may go to WALL·E).

It certainly seems like a lot of categories are coming down to these next two movies, at least that is how I see it when I look over the nominees. Would I be disappointed by a win by Star Trek or maybe Up? No, I would not.

Avatar

Here is a film that is a technical wonder from top to bottom and from start to finish. Aside from the fact that it was in production for years and that new 3D technologies were created to get it right and that they could edit the CG elements in pieces, it has a blend of location and studio sounds. On top of that, much like the prior two nominees, there are elements of this film that are simply unlike anything found on Earth (yes, an understatement). These otherworldly sounds have to come from somewhere and it is the editing team that created them. This film is all encompassing and completely involving and one would have to think the sounds are a big part of that. If they don’t work the film loses its credibility and will fail to work to its potential. Very good work here and has to be considered a front runner.

The Hurt Locker

I feel this war film is going to be your winner. Kathryn Bigelow’s exploration of war has a very distinctive sound to it. I am sure the team had a great amount of location audio, but I suspect a good amount of it was recreated or at least modified. The film centers on an explosive ordinance disposal unit. In other words, they defuse IEDs and other bombs found around Iraq and Afghanistan. The Hurt Locker is a very tense film, the performances are a part of it, the cinematography and editing is a part of it, sound is another. So many things work in perfect harmony to make this movie click. As you watch, notice the sounds of the explosions, the sounds of the bombs being pulled up from the ground, the clipping of wires, the sounds of weapons, the dirt and sand crunching underfoot. A heightened sense of reality is created and is quite effective.

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About Draven99

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    So are you starting off every Oscar article stating you don’t know anything about the category? Seems rather an odd choice.

    I don’t get how you can have them “ordered in the way I expect them to finish” since the results are not revealed other than the winner.

  • http://www.criticaloutcast.com Chris Beaumont

    Pretty much, yeah. Many of these things I know when I see/hear but so far as the specifics, gotta start somewhere.

    Also I am sure I mentioned it my ordering doesn’t really matter since we only get the number one. It is my way of discussing them in a fashion that makes sense to me, based on my thoughts of their likelihood to win.