Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hearing the Sounds of "Gravity"

After my brief step into the world of film with my post about the 1984 movie "The Hit" I felt that I should return to the origins of this blog: music. However, after recently seeing the new box-office hit that is "Gravity" I desperately wanted to write about it, so I decided that the solution would be to write about the sounds and music of Alfonso Cuarón's work.

Please be aware that I will be spoiling parts of the movie below.

"Gravity" is a movie which has an incredible depth when it comes to the way it tells its story and conveys information to the audience. It has stunning visuals using camerawork which pans, swivels, and rotates (very reminiscent of certain moments within 2001: A Space Odyssey), yet "Gravity"'s success lies more within the atmosphere it establishes through sound.

While the movie begins with the duo that is Kowalski and Stone (aka Clooney and Bullock), Stone is soon left alone in the vastness of space. Managing and manipulating the oppressive atmosphere that manifests itself in this setting is key in keeping viewers stimulated and interested in the movie. "Gravity" manages this with its more than competent score, which is carefully manicured to be in harmony with the plot. Climactic scenes are accompanied by sharp and tense music, while the grand swooning orchestral style pieces are befitting to the many panoramic shots of earth, the music often just delicate enough to accompany those pensive moments.

Aside from the well done musical score, there's something to be said about the way in which "Gravity" plays with sound. The emphasis on the sounds truly "surrounding" the audience is an aspect which the production team obviously put in a lot of hard work. I say hard work because it must have been quite the task to properly map a character's voice as the camera and perspective is almost constantly in motion. Yet the work pays off, adding most importantly another sense of immersion to the setting that is space. Having the voices and sound effects truly surround you as your eyes drink in the sweet nectar of 3D visuals (for those that saw it in 3D theatres) makes for a truly immersive experience.

I mentioned above the importance of keeping the viewer stimulated in the desolate and lonely story of a woman trying to escape space. The director Alfonso Cuarón shows an incredible sense of pacing in the way he seamlessly transitions to and from scenes, and of course, he uses sound as a nifty tool when doing so. While the audience becomes quickly accustomed to the muffled space-suit crackle voices of the characters, Cuarón throws in a new element by occasionally transitioning to inside the space-suit. The first time he does this, it's an incredibly tense moment which features the camera constantly inching closer to Sandra Bullock's helmeted head. We hear her constantly talking, and at a certain point the camera traverses through the helmet, and that is when we hear the character's pure unaltered voice for the first time. From the visual vicinity of the shot to clearly hearing every inflexion within Sandra Bullock's voice, there was a distinct intimacy that the viewer felt with the character.

The role that sound production and music play in movies is immense. It's very easy to forget about what the interplay between visual and audio can do in terms of immersion and connection with a story. Cuarón's "Gravity" seems to have plucked a very deep and instinctual string within our hearts, as it pushes a very vulnerable and relatable character to the brink of isolation in the immense mystery that is space. Yet it all could have easily fallen apart without the proper attention and detail regarding the sounds necessary to immerse the viewer in the atmosphere. Next time you see "Gravity", make sure to pay special attention to hearing the sounds which accompany the lonely protagonist in her journey.


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