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Film Essays

“Maybe it’s the power trying to come back on” : The Use of Sound in Jurassic Park

My first memory of noticing sound in a film was Jurassic Park.  I was nine years old and entranced by the entire experience. I’d been waiting a long time for the visuals, and they did not disappoint, but the sounds that backed those scenes up were intense. They jumped out at me. From pouring rain to animal roars, accompanied at various points by John Williams’ score, the film is a testament to unusually smart choices of sound design in a genre ravaged by noise and volume.

Midway through the film the T-Rex escapes.  During this sequence John Williams’ score is absent. For almost ten minutes we hear only tremors, screams, metal and rain; lots and lots of rain. This is the music of the sequence. It doesn’t need the score by Williams. Between the constant downpour and the heart wrenching sounds of the T-Rex, the audience is unable to break free from the environment. There is nothing to remind us it’s a movie.

This is an incredible moment for cinema.  Done differently there could be some compelling music driving the action, with a lot of quick cuts and excessive noise cues allowing viewers to sidestep the anxiety and simply enjoy the carnage. This is the usual path for a summer blockbuster film. Instead, Spielberg focuses on the events and the characters at hand and manages to pull us to the edge of our seats for a scene that is actually quite slow.

This approach, evident throughout during many key scenes of narrative development in Jurassic Park, carries the film and separates it from the typical fodder of mainstream cinema. Humanity itself is brought to the front line, providing strong organic connections that allow just enough entertainment without displacement. The intertwining of the two maintains the anxiety and excitement of watching extraordinary sequences while exhibiting the full strength of delicate sound in place of overstretched music and sound cue bombardments.

We need more treatments like these in our movies that bridge humanities rather than distance and distract. Music should be the smallest bit of glue holding scenes together that absolutely require it. There is a lot of great music in Jurassic Park, but its absence makes its presence that much more valuable

By Garrett D. Tiedmann 8/15/2011

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