Thursday, February 20, 2014

FYC: Best Sound Editing, All is Lost

*With Oscar voting in full swing and the ceremony less than two weeks away, I'm taking this week to spotlight a handful of nominees in the technical categories. These are not frontrunners in their category, but they are worthy of our consideration. Welcome to FYC Week.*

I'll be the first to admit that I - like the vast majority of us film bloggers - don't really understand the particular nuances of sound effects editing. Here's what I do know: the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, in layman's terms, is that the former involves the recording, amplification, and addition of sounds that did not occur during filming, while the latter involves the overall sonic tapestry of the film.

I also know that the Best Sound Editing category often favors animated films, action-packed blockbusters, and major Best Picture contenders, and that in two of the past three years it has been the only place where a film that I had predicted to be a possible big contender managed a nomination (2011's Drive and this year's All is Lost). This year is no exception to that rule: Captain Phillips (blockbuster/Best Picture), Gravity (blockbuster/Best Picture), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (blockbuster), and Lone Survivor (blockbuster) all scored nominations in this category. The aforementioned All is Lost is the oddball of the group. It's not a major across-the-board contender (again, this is the film's only nomination), and with a lifetime domestic gross of a little over $6 million (USD), it's far from being blockbuster.


However, unlike the other four films (I assume; I have not seen The Hobbit or Lone Survivor), All is Lost is a film that lives or dies by it's soundscape. It's a film that has precious little dialogue from the sole performer, Robert Redford, and therefore relies heavily on image and sound to convey the severity of Our Man's situation. What Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns - the film's nominated editors - accomplish here is making those sounds present and foreboding, with every thump, crack, splash, and snap forming a symphony of impending doom. The way they present these sounds, the wail of a passing ship's horn becomes more like a death knell than a cry of hope, and the ripping of the raft's vinyl in the wind is the sound of cruel fate taunting him. Many critics compared All is Lost to a biblical parable, with Our Man serving in the role as a modern-day Job - or at least a distant relative of his. The sound effects are integral to this reading, as each crashing wave, booming thunderclap, and crunching rainfall is the sound of a higher power taunting powerless man, reminding him of how unforgiving it can be.

Gravity or Captain Phillips are the likely winners of this category, and surely they feature impressive sound work worthy of commemoration. But neither of those films use the power of their sound effects to the same glorious effect as All is Lost. In this film, they are the sound of divine fury.

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