Making Waves Review

When I was going through film school, I grimaced when I was assigned the audio position. Whether I held the recorder or the boom mic, I remember feeling low. But soon, I learned that gathering sound was integral as I hovered the boom mic to an air vent or the whistling grass. I am proud to call myself “once an Audio Kid.”

If you ever hovered a boom mic before, you’ll know sound–and silence–is crucial to every film. Sound can be as grand as fiery explosions, as casual as footsteps, as minuscule as a puddle splash, or complex like a robot speaking in their own language. Think about the iconic robotic chitter of R2-D2 in Star Wars, the steaming of plane engines in Top Gun, the churning helicopter blades that externalize the madness within Vietnam soldier’s head in Apocalypse Now, and the War-Is-Hell cacophony of gunfire in Saving Private Ryan.  

As a Hollywood sound editor herself, director Midge Costin pieced together an appreciative documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound glancing into the history and the anatomy of film sound.

Using film clips, interviews and footage, the film is a solid starting pack about the sound craft. It runs through the timeline of technological turning points: from silent films, the strips capturing sound, dialogue recorded for 1927 The Jazz Singer, sound breakthroughs with Apocalypse Now and Star Wars, to the digital age easing some of the labor. The documentary navigates mono and stereo and elaborates on jargons like Automated Dialog Replacement (ADR), SFX, Foley, and Ambience. Most eye-catchingly, it shows sound artists in their element, synchronizing sounds with the images on the screen. It’s incredible to watch the realistic sounds of cinema designed by mystifying sources, such as when foley artist Alyson Dee Moore rolls a pinecone over lasagna pasta to stimulate glass cracking in Inception.

The early great sound designers Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The Godfather), Ben Burtt (Star Wars, E.T.) and Gary Rydstrom (Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park) share their commentary. Note that more female faces and voices gain prominence as the second half slides into our modern age of Inception, Black Panther, and Wonder Woman as film society takes steps to appreciate the long-existing aptitude of sound workers who happen to be women, including Gwendolyn Whittle (Avatar), Ai-Ling Lee (First Man), and Lora Hirschberg (Inception). Directors also share their appreciation, including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Barbara Streisand, Christopher Nolan, Sofia Coppola, and Ryan Coogler.

Sound is like the stitches that keep the emotional fabrics of the cinematic picture. A sound on camera can be beefed up by replacing it with a hardier sound in post-production. Take for example, sound editor Cece Hall was dissatisfied with the literal jet noises for the jets of Top Gun and worked with her sound library of lion and tiger roars and monkey screeches to sharpen the aerial wooshes of crumbling aircraft.

I wanted to ooo and ahhh at the behind-the-scenes footage a little longer, more so than listening to the directors ruminate on the importance of sound. (Regarding the matters of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, I cringed when John Lasseter spoke for too long and the film would have benefited from excluding him). Making Waves feels purposed for young filmmakers learning the craft or experienced ones reinforcing their appreciation of sound and the masters behind them. Coming into this documentary, you’ll likely be already interested in behind-the-scenes aesthetics. All in all, Making Waves can encourage the filmmaker in you to grab the boom mic and sound recorder and see what noise, rhythm, and roars you can capture and assemble.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Caroline Cao is a Houstonian native and writer of movie reviews and essays, Star Wars thoughts, screenplays, plays and fanfiction. She loves herself some oodles of noodles and student discounted Broadway shows.