I'm one of those picky people when it comes going to the movies. I always go early and only to specific theaters to make sure I get the best seat. I want to see a movie the way it was meant to be seen. After reading William Whittington's Sound Design & Science Fiction Film, I realized that where I sit is just as important if you want to hear the film the way it was meant to be heard. I've also gained an appreciation for what goes into how I experience a movie.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this exploration is that it focuses on my favorite genre, science fiction. It's a logical choice for experimentation and certainly technological innovation, after all, what does a alien, a light saber, or a pod racer sound like? Ask Ben Burt. It is up to the imagination of the designers like Burt to create the realities of that imagined universe. It's been 30 years since I saw Star Wars for the first time, but the sensation of the opening as Vader's ship passes, seemingly, overhead and onto the screen is still crystal clear.
While Whittington explores the development of the sound design through films like THX 1138, Star Wars, Exterminator II, Alien, and the Matrix, my favorite chapter is the one on the two Blade Runners, one of my favorite films. I have my own issues with director's cuts and though I loved the visual sensation, music, and the Sam Spade-like voiceover of the original 1982 version, I almost wish I hadn't seen Blade Runner until the director's cut came out in 1992. But, it's like the judge asking the jury to disregard the previous statement, it took some convincing for me to see how the basic elements of the story had changed.
Whittington goes carefully through both versions of the film and, skeptical the whole way, I had to re-examine my own memory of the story. Gradually I realized that not only were there two different stories, with basically different Decker's, but that the majority of the transformation comes from the sound design itself. Removing the voiceover and allowing the story to reveal, not explain the events, fundamentally changes the story and leaves open questions about Decker himself. Is he a replicant? Are his memories more real then those of Rachel? Those issues, unambiguous in the original version, are much more in the style of author, Philip K. Dick.
Okay, you may not be interested in re-examining your view of Blade Runner; the way I was. Apparently, I was one of the few people who saw it the first time out. But, if you are curious and enjoy movies, this book will give you insight on the changes in sound within the film industry and in how we experience that when we view films at home or in the theater. On the other hand, if you're one of those hopeful future filmmakers it will give you a broader perspective on the power of sound as an integrated element of film. As for me, I'll just have to make sure I get the best seat in the theater, and give this director's cut a chance.