“Films at how music, sound effects, and different types

“Films are fifty
percent visual and fifty percent sound, sometimes sound overplays the visuals” (Lynch, 2002). Over the past century,
the role of sound in films has evolved and changed significantly, originating from
the first ‘talkie’ film- a film with a distinct soundtrack- ‘The Jazz Singer’ (Crosland, 1927).
Perhaps one of the most revolutionary approaches to sound came from the Star
Wars franchise, when ‘A New Hope’
(George Lucas, 1977) was released, and has since gone on to release another
eight films. In this essay, I am going to explain why I believe sound to be
significant in films- specifically looking at ‘A New Hope’ and ‘Attack of the Clones’ (Lucas, 2002).
Looking at how music, sound effects, and different types of sound design can be
used in different ways to enhance and change films.

 

‘Star Wars: A New Hope’
(Lucas, 1977) was a revolutionary film at the time of its release, and is still
regarded nowadays as a classic film- and the birthplace of one of the most
beloved franchises on the planet. Star Wars was written and directed by George
Lucas, and despite receiving harsh backlash during production for it being so
different and unique, the film was released on the 27th December
1977. The film was a roaring success, and (for a period of time) was the
highest grossing movie to ever be made but not only that, ‘A New Hope’ (Lucas, 1977) set the precedent for all sci-fi films to
come; one of the key factors to the movie’s success is down to the sound.

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One of the truly stand out features of ‘A New Hope’ is the
scoring. The entire movie is filled with original compositions for a Symphony
Orchestration created and conducted by John Williams. His “climb to the top of his profession began in the 1970’s with his scores
for the Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno”, (Scheurer, 1997) which
both were nominated for Academy awards and won Oscars for the theme tunes in
their respective years. After composing the score for ‘Jaws’ (Spielberg, 1975), he then went on to compose for A New Hope-
as Spielberg and Lucas were close friends.

 

Utilising the entire Symphonic Orchestra and the individual
instrumental techniques, Williams was able to create a score that emphasised
and amplified the emotions portrayed through the film via the visuals. However,
the most noticeable feature of the music is the constant use and rendition of
motifs- a strength that Williams began to experiment with in the Jaws score. In
music, a motif is a small section of music/sequence of notes that is tied to
either a place, a person, or an idea in the narrative- and can come back at
numerous times within a film, often at different tempos and orchestrations.
This originated from the use of the ‘leitmotif’ from mid-19th
century German compositions, the first recorded use was by Richard Wagner in
his Operatic works (1853-1869).

One of the main motifs heard throughout the whole film is
the theme titled “A New Hope”. We first hear this as a very stripped-down
rendition at 0:4:43 when Leia places the plans into R2D2, then we hear the
theme with full orchestration at 0:24:30 as Luke stares out towards the famous
‘binary sunset’. It is heard in numerous other places in the film (such as the
Death star trench run at 1:50:56), and each time this motif is representing the
idea of Hope: hope for safety, hope for a different destiny, hope for the
rebellion. I believe John Williams intended for the audience to associate this
motif with Hope, and this is an idea that he carried through into the
compositions for the other films in the trilogy as well- for example it is used
when Luke reaches out to Leia in Bespin towards the end of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (Lucas, 1980).

 

I would also argue that the musical score is significant to
the film, because it helps to emphasise the emotions being portrayed through
the visuals. For example, when Darth Vader strikes Obi Wan down (1:28:43), the
New Hope theme begins to play, however is interrupted when Luke screams, and
the music begins to escalate to reflect the climactic desperation displayed by
Luke as he begins firing his blaster in vain. The music adds to the emotions
portrayed by the characters- and without it, the impacts of the scene would not
translate across to audience nearly as well. It is essentially informing the
audience that something major has occurred. Another example is the ending scene
of the film (1:53:43 onwards), where Luke, Han, and Chewbacca are presented with
medals- the music indicates to the audience that this is a momentous occasion.
After analysing the full orchestral score (composed by Williams, 1980) I found
the new hope theme, as well as Leia’s theme, the millennium falcon theme, and
the title theme. The purpose of this is to be the grand finale of the film, and
moves the audience as they are reminded of the epic journey they have just
witnessed, and they feel emotionally attached to the characters. The scene
would still have meaning without the music; however, it heightens and
emphasises the feeling of pride and accomplishment within the audience by
revisiting the thematic material and motifs established throughout the film.

 

 ‘A New Hope’ (Lucas, 1977) was not the first science fiction film,
this was ‘Le Voyage dans le lune’ (George
Méliès, 1902) and there were numerous entries to the genre in the 1960’s such
as ‘Planet of the Apes’ (Franklin
Schaffner, 1968). However, it was the first film to utilise dialogue and the
use of sound effects as it does.

The sound effects in the film were all created by head sound
designer/assistant editor Ben Burtt and his team of foley artists, who were
tasked to create sound effects for this strange new fictional universe. They
had to create new sound effects never before heard for essentially everything
in the film- some of which were the sounds used for: the tie fighters, the
X-wings, lightsabres, blasters, light speed, and ships taking off. These (now
well-known sound effects) were created from scratch through numerous different
means, for example; to create the sound of Darth Vader breathing, Burtt “placed a microphone inside a regulator on a
scuba breathing apparatus, then breathed into it in different ways” (Ratcliffe,
2016). Then for the sound of the lightsabres- the first sound he designed- he
recorded the sound of “an old motor on a
projector in the USC Cinema department” (Ratcliffe, 2016) which created the
basis for the constant humming sound. They took sounds from the real world, and
experimented with them to create sounds that help the Star Wars universe to
feel real and alive.

 

Certain sounds used throughout the film have become so famous/well
known, that they have essentially entered pop culture history.  Such as Darth Vader’s breathing sound (heard
first at 0:4:29) which is heard every time we see him in the trilogy, and has
become synonymous to his character- similar to a motif, however as a sound
effect. The same applies to R2D2’s ‘beeping’ form of communication (heard first
at 0:02:42), again tied to his character in all six films of the saga. Because
of ‘A New Hope’s’ fame (Lucas, 1977),
sounds such as these and many more have become instantly recognisable to the
franchise, but also to the genre of science fiction films.

As previously mentioned, I believe the story in the film is
told through a combination of the use of music/sound, and also through the use
of dialogue. The dialogue is classed as ‘diegetic sound’, meaning sound that is
“presented as originated from source
within the film’s world” (Bordwell-Thompsson, 1979)- meaning any sound that
is from the scene and that is a part of the narrative. ‘Non-diegetic sound’ is
the opposite, and is where it “comes from
a source outside the story space” (Bordwell-Thompsson, 1979)- which
encompasses sound elements such as music/scoring, narrator’s commentary, or
sound effects added for dramatic effect. Another reason that makes this film unique
and significant is how they start to blur the lines between diegetic and
non-diegetic sound throughout. The sound effects and score have both been
created in a way that feels natural to the audience, as it disguises the fact
that this is all from a fictional universe. This is one of the main reasons why
I believe sound to be significant in this film, but also in all films- because
it creates the perception of realism better than anything else, allowing the
audience to become fully indulged in the film.

 

Sixteen years after ‘Return
of the Jedi’ (Lucas, 1983) as the end of the original trilogy, George Lucas
released the first of three new films, that would eventually form the “Prequel
Trilogy”. These films explore the entire backstory in the Star Wars universe,
and leads all the way up to the events of the Original Trilogy. The second film
to be released was titled ‘Attack of the
Clones’ (2002), was produced by Rick McCallum, and had original composed
music by John Williams. As stated by Ben Burtt when working on this film, “the sounds and music in Star Wars are really
what gives the fantastic visuals credibility” (2002)- so I am going to look
at this film, and the significant role that sound plays.

 

Echoing what I mentioned about the ‘A New Hope’ and the use of motifs throughout the film, ‘Attack of the Clones’ (Lucas, 2002) also
utilises motifs and uses small sections of music as storytelling devices. One
example is in the scene where Padme talks to Anakin after his mother has just
passed away (scene starting at 1:20:19): as he talks the music takes a sudden
change when he says how he “killed them all”- as the motif for the Sith begins
to play quietly in the background. As the conversation progresses, his anger
escalates and at 1:22:17 we hear the ‘Imperial March’ theme play- which is
synonymous to the character of Darth Vader, whom Anakin becomes in the next
film. The theme starts exactly how it is heard in the Original Trilogy with the
brass section playing the main motif, then dies down until it is played by only
a Clarinet- similar to Anakin’s thematic material from when he was younger in
the previous movie. In this short twenty second section of music, it links to
his past and clearly foreshadows his darker future- in addition to this it also
links to the original trilogy of films.

 

In addition to motifs, the music indeed emphasises the
emotions present (just as it did in ‘A
New Hope’), however in ‘Attack of the
Clones’ (Lucas, 2002) the way pieces of music are utilised enables them to
help to tell the story- in some cases that is more important than the
visuals.  One example is the use of
musical scoring between Padme and Anakin- the main theme titled ‘Across the
Stars’- and how it represents the evolution of their love for each other. When
they arrive at the lake on ‘Naboo’ we first hear their love theme (0:43:25),
however it is very minimalistic and it cut short when they realise that their
love is not allowed. “It is well known
that this theme bears resemblances to other themes by John Williams, such as
scoring from Nixon, and Hook” (Richards, 2015), in which it too links to
the idea/theme of love. Throughout the film it is revisited with different
instrumentation and tempos, before it is finally recapitulated in the final
scene of the film where we see them getting married in secret- the scene
composition is titled “forbidden love”. Although there are no words spoken, the
music is fully synchronous to the scene (starting at 2:09:16); meaning that the
music compliments/matches to the visuals. Throughout the film their love is
supressed until this crucial point where it is fully shown, and it mirrored
perfectly by the music: the orchestration is far larger, there is more
percussion, more dynamic swells, and it is more expressively played- representing
how their feelings and attitudes have evolved to this climax. This being the
final scene also adds additional weight, going into the third (and final) movie
of the prequel trilogy.

 

Finally, I believe that the use of sound effects plays a key
role in ‘Attack of the Clones’ just
as it did in ‘A New Hope’ (Lucas,
1977 and 2002)- in fact many of the iconic sound effects are still present. Sounds
such as light speed, blasters, and R2D2’s ‘beeping’ can still be found, as can
many others including the sound effects used for lightsabres- the entire duel
between Anakin and Count Dooku (starting at 2:01:39) does not feature any
scoring, and is accompanied only by the sounds of their sabres. The sound made
by them is far more refined than it was 25 years previously, and the main
reason behind this is that the vast majority of the sound effects in this film
have been generated electronically- unlike when they were previously recorded
by hand. As stated by Jordan. R (2007), “…the
auditory dimension is now deemed worth of exploration in its own right”,
which the past few decades have shown as sound is constantly developed and
elaborated upon- proven here by the approach to sound effects.

Additionally, in some instances in this film, sound is used
for creative licence- therefore playing a key role. For example, at 1:04:30
explosions occur in space and there is a delay between the visual explosion and
the sound of it- this one second delay adds scale and magnitude. This was
specifically mentioned in the script by Lucas (IMSDb, 2002), as it helps to
amplify the sense of danger, which would have been lost without sound.

 

To conclude, I fully believe that sound is significant in
films. Having looked at examples in the films ‘A New Hope’ and ‘Attack of the
Clones’ (Lucas, 1977 and 2002), I have looked at how the use of music is used
to emphasise the emotions established by the visuals- additionally how motifs
in the music are used as narrative tools to represent characters/places/ideas.
Sound effects can also be effectively used to create the ‘perception of
realism’ by blurring the lines between ‘diegetic’ and ‘non-diegetic’ sound-
thus indulging the audience further. As films continue to evolve and push the
boundaries, it is now clear to me that sound will always remain a vital
element.