Sound is a vital part of any film or video production that many people often overlook. If you watch a video online you can often forgive poor image resolution, but if the sound quality and design is awful I can guarantee you won’t put up with it for long.
Sound design for film can be a complex affair, adding and creating all new meanings to a scene.
I will be taking you through Peter Jackson’s 2009 film The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson being one of my favourite directors. The genre of the film is predominately drama but including elements of both surrealism and horror. It is the story of a young girl (Susie Salmon) who falls victim to a suburban serial killer, and watches both her family and her killer from a ‘Limbo’ between life and death. The film is the story of her family’s struggle to move on with their lives, while she tries to come to terms with her own death. After her murder, the film frequently shifts between reality and the world that Susie occupies that is neither Heaven nor Earth. Apart from the visuals, the sound design is a big element in highlighting the transition between worlds; creating a contrast between the two realities that is noticeable throughout the film.
The sound design changes frequently throughout the film as the story progresses. In the opening and establishing of the characters the sound design is very gentle and subtle. It draws no attention to itself and is mainly diegetic, blending seamlessly into the visuals. This creates a sense of normality for the film to start in, the situation of an ordinary family life that many people can relate to. The subtlety and ‘invisibility’ of the sound design in the opening portion of the film creates a contrast to the latter events and helps emphasise the shocking change that the family endures after the murder of Susie.
During the build up to Susie’s murder the sound design begins to change subtly. The murderer lures Susie into an underground ‘den’ that he as built in the middle of a field; supposedly for the local children to play in. It is in here that he eventually attacks and murders her. When Susie first encounters her murderer in the open field eerie music begins to play subtly to give the impression that all is not what it seems. Although the lines of dialogue spoken and the action of the characters gives no startling clue that anything bad is about to happen (hence why Susie is lured in), the sound design heightens the emotion of the scene and makes it clear that all is not well. Although the initial meeting occurs in an open field, the sound design is very claustrophobic and creates the impression with the audience that Susie is already trapped. The contrast between the confined sound design and the expansive visuals creates a restless mood for the scene as though something as not quite right. The sudden heightened prominence of smaller sounds such as footsteps, rustling of leaves, creaking and character’s breaths creates this claustrophobic effect that intensifies the scene far beyond that which the visuals show us. The loud echoing sound of the murderer stamping on the trapdoor leading to the ‘den’ also helps emphasize this.