You’re in a theater watching a movie, and the volume is at a comfortable level. Suddenly, a chase scene, an explosion, a car crash, and the volume jolts you out of your seat. Next scene, people talking in a quiet room and you strain to hear the conversation. Sound familiar?
At home, while viewing a DVD, the scenario is not much different. You have to have your volume remote control nearby. One scene, volume up, next scene, wow!, volume down. This occurs several times throughout the film. I understand that some scenes are louder than others, just as in “real life”. I also understand that the level of film technology and production has greatly escalated, especially in the last 25 years. With the aid of high tech microphone and recording equipment, why can’t the sound be edited so that the finished film is listened to at a comfortable volume throughout its entirety? In a theater, I can understand why some scenes might be recorded or kept louder. This can be for impact, surprise, excitement, but at home? Even if you watch on a home theater system or a high definition sound system, somewhere you’ll probably have to adjust the volume through the course of an average film.
If this were forty years ago, I wouldn’t be writing this article. But with the technology sound technicians have available, I can’t understand this concept. Why would they not do this? Plus they are Academy Awards for Sound Editing, and Best Sound? The sound and music in a film can make or break a film, make a drama into an unintended comedy. The sound editing can add pathos, drama, suspense, fright, downright heartbreak. Nothing moves me like the scene in “Schindler’s List”, where Liam Neeson, as Oskar Schindler, breaks down to his accountant, played by Ben Kingsley, who along with the people he helped save, give him a homemade ring. He is so moved and touched by the gesture and then the enormity of the situation kicks in: “I could have done more; this car, why did I need this car, ten people, at least, this watch, five people..” It’s a moment where the silence and subtle music add so much to the feelings that the character has. Liam may have given the best performance of his life in this film and no one, I think, can watch that scene, without sobbing the way the character does.
Sound helps make the film. We have the technology to make anything believable. Foley artists squished up cantaloupes with their hands to make it sound like dinosaur eggs hatching in “Jurassic Park”! Film have been made for nearly ninety years with sound and each year, the sound itself progressed in its technology. More and more films became classics over the decades for their visuals, actors, action and yes, sound.
I cannot fathom why sound editors, and sound technicians who work on the final cut of a film do not edit the volume of the sound of the final product. Maybe one of them will read this article or recommend it, and comment. I have seen and heard celebrities who complain about it, too. On television, the sound goes up for commercials, because they assume you will leave the room, and the sponsors want to sell a product. Television manufacturers claim they will address those issues in the future. Barbra Streisand has been known to complain about it and so has Steve Martin.
I know it won’t save the world or help with the oil spill or save hungry people or cure diseases, but hey, come on, how hard can it be? Let’s complain about the sound changes on DVDs and get some sound editing so we don’t have to constantly “Volume up, volume down”! Let’s relax in the movie theater without worrying what one guy said to the other and then the music blasts you away!