The 95th Academy Award Coverage: Best Sound

| February 15, 2023

The Nominees are . . . 

• Viktor Prášil, Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte for All Quiet on the Western Front
• Julian Howarth, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Dick Bernstein, Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers and Michael Hedges for Avatar: The Way of Water
• Stuart Wilson, William Files, Douglas Murray and Andy Nelson for The Batman
• David Lee, Wayne Pashley, Andy Nelson and Michael Keller for Elvis
• Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor for Top Gun: Maverick

Let’s look at the field by process of elimination, but also recognize that there isn’t a slouch in this group,

First is Avatar: The Way of Water which is rich with the sounds of the jungle and then with the water.  The real achievement though is credited to Julian Howarth who redesigned how the sound is captured.  Normally, the sound mixer records the sound as the scene is being shot.  But Howarths innovation was to provide sound during the mo-cap sessions by surrounding the stage with speakers and, on his keyboard, provided the sounds of water and jungle, thereby giving the actors a sense of their environment.  What he calls “on-the-spot sound design.”

Next is The Batman which offers something new to the overcrowded superhero field.  Most of these film (even the good ones) focus their sound design on explosions, impacts, thunderous cacophony.  This film is different.  Yeah, there’s a terrific car chase in the rain, but even in that, the sound is based on gravity and weight.  What is more impressive are the ambient sounds created by supervising sound designers William Files and Douglas Murray, sound mixer Stuart Wilson and re-recording mixer Andy Nelson.  Their work captured the inner-city soundscapes of the wrecked hellhole that is Gotham City, turning it from just a set-designer’s dream into a real place.

Elvis was a terrific technical achievement in trying to recreate the sound that raised a fury in the 1950s and then his teen-pop sound in the 1960s and the more operatic Vegas show style of the 1970s.  What is unique is that each is different to its era, utilizing vintage microphones and sound equipment to get the sound just right.

All Quiet on the Western Front might seem light to most traditional of this year’s nominees, recreating the sounds of the World War I battlefields as a hellscape of bombs and bullets.  What is unique is that supervising sound editor supervising sound editors Markus Stemler and Frank Kruse and sound editor Viktor Prášil created a sense of disorientation.  The best example comes at the film’s opening when protagonist Paul regains consciousness and hears the distant sounds of the war – bombs, gunshots, screaming – and then the sounds become louder as he comes around.  As he goes about collecting the dog tags of his dead comrades, we hear the dirt under his feet, his breath quickened by fear.  Almost literally, we are put in Paul’s shoes.  The sounds of war are impressive but the impact on the individual is an achievement all its own.  So too are the moments of quiet contemplation when the war can be heard over the horizon, a reminder that it is ever-present.

But the one that I think will get the voter’s attention is Top Gun: Maverick.  It may not seem like much but this film too is an immersive experience, albeit radically different in its purpose, combining the talents of production sound mixer Mark Weingartin, supervising sound editor James Mather, sound designer Al Nelson and re-recording mixers Mark Taylor and Chris Burdon to create the world inside the cockpit the includes not only the sounds of the controls but also breathing, wind against the jets and turbo engines.

So, who’s going to win?  I think Top Gun: Maverick.  This was the film that reminded everyone of the importance of going out to our cinematic temple and the immersion of that film is most of the reason why.

The Winner: Top Gun: Maverick
The Runner-Up: All Quiet on the Western Front

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.