Saturday, June 06, 2009

Star Trek Movie

Hi everyone:

I've seriously neglected the blog for over a year. This isn't due to lack of interest - far from it. Rather, I've managed to busy myself with life and other writings, including regular columns for my local newspaper, a now defunct wine magazine...not to mention my job and life.

Anyway, I recently traveled to Washington DC for a performance, and while there we went to a large IMAX theatre at the Air and Space Museum annex at Dulles Airport. I'm not a huge Trekkie but it was fantastic to walk into the building and see a real Space Shuttle on the way to the theatre - not many local cinemas offer that kind of experience!

I was mostly interested in seeing what was likely to be a technically ground-breaking film on an advanced projection and sound system. I should take one moment to explain that, unlike TRUE IMAX, the Star Trek IMAX experience was not produced with IMAX cameras, but was upsampled from the same stock that the standard film was.

As that was the case, there were some moments, particularly in the soundtrack, where certain artifacts were heard that might not have been as noticeable in the standard cut. In particular, non-ADR speech sometimes included a fair bit of noise. That's not something I'd expect from a professional film. Neither was the most offensive moment for me - something that broke the spell of willing suspension of disbelief.

It occurred after a scene in which Kirk and Spock begin to realize that they could be friends. Kirk playfully slaps Spock's shoulder, which was covered by his uniform. The resulting gunshot sound was so completely faked - too loud and unnatural - that I could not stop thinking about it for the rest of the film.

After leaving the theatre, I decided to see the film again. Maybe that moment was a result of the conversion to IMAX, I told myself.

Nope - it persists in the standard version as well. I jokingly tell my friends that the rest of the film (including a fantastic skydive that starts in space and ends on basketball court sized platform) was totally believable and that this sound is the only non-realistic moment, but it's actually not far off from the truth.

In reality, nearly all sound effects are carefully crafted by sound engineers and added in after filming. This is mainly due to the inability of a microphone to get a high quality, "true" sound without actually being in the shot (and therefore visible). This is part of what Michel Chion calls the "audiovisual contract", the agreement (so to speak) between what we see on screen and what we hear in the soundtrack that lends realism to the film. In effect, a soundtrack must be extremely UNrealistic in order to be understood as realistic.

I know - it's ironic.

But it's true. Think of the pioneering work done by Ben Burtt and others on Star Wars. While they broke many laws of physics, the sound of that film just seems "right." To the crew, Darth Vader had a British accent and no heavy breathing. To us, we need only hear the breathing in order to know that Vader is near.

Star Trek shouldn't (and won't) win and awards for Sound Editing. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable film and I'll gladly watch any sequels. I just hope that they are as careful in the future with the sound as they are with the visual effects.

2 Comments:

Blogger PianoGirlAnn said...

Welcome back! Blog posts = good.

6/07/2009 7:22 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

You make a good point but I think the sound design did fall flat on the old cliché of sounds in space also.

7/18/2009 12:15 PM  

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