Thursday, January 2, 2014

FYC: Steven Price, Glenn Freemantle and the Sound Mixing of Gravity

This "For Your Consideration" series is my wishlist of sorts for the upcoming Oscar nominations. In anticipation of the final day of voting (January 8th), I will be posting daily FYC articles until that day. Each will focus on 3 separate Oscar categories, highlighting one film/film element per category that deserves consideration. Please note that these are not necessarily my favourites for each category. They are instead an assortment of memorable films/elements that were breakthroughs or surpassed my expectations. You'll notice that some of them are already in the awards conversation, while others are fringe contenders without much of a chance. Regardless, I believe they are all deserving of Oscar nominations based on the quality of their work.

Best Original Score
Steven Price, Gravity

When "Gravity" released in the fall it became an major success, instantly drawing comparisons to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". Those comparisons have stirred up some interesting debate with detractors criticizing the conventional nature of this script in comparison to Kubrick's more intellectual concept. Yet, I strongly feel there's room for both approaches in the discussion of quintessential sci-fi/space movies. Cuaron clearly set out to make a film grounded in emotion rather than an esoteric head trip. He succeeds tremendously and that's largely due to the outstanding work by Steven Price in composing the film's score. I'm not exaggerating when I say that for long a while after watching the film, I listened to this soundtrack every day.
Highlights include the wonderment of "Aurora Borealis" and the tranquil isolation evoked by "Aningaaq". These all lead toward the perfect track for the film's triumphant finale - "Gravity". The track opens with an ethereal quality through string instruments and choral voices. Then, the underlying percussion become progressively more pronounced and the vocals more dramatic as it approaches the climax. It (along with the visuals) filled me with such spritual upliftment that I wanted to do a fist pump in celebration. It made me happy to be alive, firmly planted on this Earth.

Best Sound Editing
Glenn Freemantle, Gravity

Glenn Freemantle has done great work with Danny Boyle before and he's once again in fine form with this Alfonso Cuaron collaboration. It's easy to criticize the film for somewhat ignoring the "no sound in space" factor, but as I mentioned in relation to Steven Price's score, the film is more concerned with creating that immersive emotional thrill ride. Really, we can't fully feel the impact of that space shuttle's destruction without a few sound cues. Thus, Freemantle uses sound effects very effectively, from the "swoosh" of Bullock whirling around uncontrollably to the "boom" of the collisions. Being alone in the empty abyss of space is frightening enough and these sounds make it even more so. Cuaron knows what he's doing, using Freemantle's exemplary work as an investment that pays off in the emotional gut punch of the film's latter half.

Best Sound Mixing
Chris Munro, Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri & Christopher Benstead, Gravity

I'm sure you've probably heard about the innovations that Cuaron and his team employed to create the stunning visuals of "Gravity". However, when I sat down for that IMAX experience in October, I was equally as impressed by the film's sound mixing. The Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing seeks to recognize the most euphonic (inherently pleasant) sound mixing and I believe the film does this particularly well. Considering the various different sources of sound at play (dialogue, heavy breathing, crashing debris and a towering score), it's a major achievement that it never sounds like dissonant noise. Those surround sound systems got a real workout! It all contributes to the immersive experience, since this aural design keeps you engaged with Ryan Stone's plight rather than turning you off (even though it's often terrifying).

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