Few inventions and discoveries have been as transformative to the art of film as sound. From the immortal words in the closing moments of The Jazz Singer to all the assorted sound designers of the modern age, the richness of a film's sound quality and the crispness of its design can rope a viewer in and immerse them in a movie's setting just as strongly as a good performance or an intriguing premise – Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound seeks to underline this, and it sets out boldly on its quest.
A product almost a decade in the making, helmed by a director who is himself responsible for the striking sounds present in enduring examples of action cinema, from The Rock to Top Gun, the documentary is star-studded through and through, featuring cinematic titans such as Spielberg, Lynch and Lucas and their respective collaborators, in particular Ben Burtt and Walter Murch. It lovingly and meticulously outlines the numerous stepping stones they and countless others have placed in a continuing journey to bring sound to the silver screen and refine it further. The film endured a troubled production, being saved from obscurity or non-existence only through a motivational pickup talk that production partner and writer Bobette Buster received from Pixar's Gary Rydstrom. Initial forays proved difficult, by Costin's own admission: "I could barely find stuff on Orson Welles or Hitchcock, there's not a lot of documents about them even talking about sound", she informs. "It's not really there.”
What she does find, however, is fascinating. Starting from an interview featuring Murray Spivack, arguably the first recorded sound designer in the history of film for his work on King Kong, features of all sorts are trotted out as examples of stellar work in the field of sound, from Copolla's Godfather to Star Wars, all the way back to 1926's Don Juan, the first film to contain synchronised sound. A vast tapestry, rich and wonderful, is woven, from those distant days to 1963's watershed moment in the creation of the Best Sound Mixing category for the Oscars, leading up to the creation of multichannel sound and more besides, and it is a true delight to behold, even if the subject it covers may appeal only to enthusiasts. As insightful as this feature is, showing the techniques used both in the early days of the craft and how the technique of aural design blossomed as films themselves increased their complexity – a demonstration that is not without its own brand of humour as it reveals the tricks of the trade, with sounds in Costin's own Days of Thunder being realised through mixing the mewling of kittens with engine sounds, and how the iconic roar of a TIE Fighter's engine in Star Wars was created through combining an elephant's call with a car driving on wet pavement - it is, above all, inspirational. It wastes no time in charting the development of sound as a part of film, concisely proving its flexibility in a brisk hour and a half and serving as a strong message to anyone who wishes to break into the industry.
While it is hamstrung somewhat by its narrow scope, as the majority of the directors, creatives and films the documentary features originate from the USA, Making Waves sets out to simultaneously inform its audience and motivate them, highlighting the undeniable and irreplaceable value of sound in cinema. The feature's tagline points out that sound is 50 percent of the cinematic experience – I can think of no other creation that proves this statement so thoroughly.