Fight Club | The Beauty of Sound Design

If you were to boil film down to its fundamental
parts, it’s really a marriage between two things; visuals, and sound. David Fincher has always pushed the envelope
when it comes to the visual aspect of his films, and has been a strong advocate for
the use of CGI; even all the way back in 1999 with “Fight Club”. Visuals stand out, they’re often the first
thing people notice when watching a film, but sound is different, by design. You’re not meant to notice sound, because
good sound design is meant to be paired so perfectly with the visuals that they go unnoticed. In most films, the only sound recorded on
set on the day of shooting is dialogue, especially if it’s in a controlled environment like a
closed set. This ensures the purest quality of the actors
voices, which makes mixing and EQing that sound much easier than if there’s a bunch
of background noise to filter out. Everything else you hear has been added in
later, an effect done so seamlessly that most people would never notice. Like this scene in The Social Network, the
loud club music, the faint sound of the rest of the crowd cut underneath, but this is what
it sounded like during filming. As a sound designer, you’re responsible for
everything the audience will hear over the course of the film, with exception to original
music. And
while Fight Club hits the nail on the head throughout, with scenes at the office, or
at Lou’s tavern, where it really shines for me is in the fight scenes. Just listen to that sound, there’s a visceral
realism to it, that frankly is missing in most other film’s fight scenes. Take this scene in Die Hard, which is arguably
one of the greatest action films of all time, a film even I love. But listen to that… I don’t even know what that sound is, but
it doesn’t sound like fists crunching into a body to me. Getting hit hurts, a lot, throwing a punch
hurts, a lot, and I just don’t feel that when watching this scene, and sadly this is how
I feel when watching fight scenes in most movies, there’s just no sense of realism,
even when it’s choreographed well, the sound just isn’t believable, and while realism isn’t
the goal of every film, it’s still worth acknowledging how effective the sounds are in the fight
scenes in Fight Club. Not only does Fincher not shy away from blood
or bruising, but that sound effect just adds a whole other layer to the power of these
scenes. Honestly, it seems like that has a lot to
do with why the film was so controversial upon release, outside of the support group
scenes that rubbed some people the wrong way, mostly it seemed to be the incredibly harsh
nature of the fight scenes that sparked controversy. And I can see why, let’s see what happens
when we change the sound effects to more of your standard fare. Without the proper sound effect to match the
visuals, it just doesn’t carry the same weight in my opinion. It completely ruins that immersive feeling
that I get when watching the film, and I think the sound designers, Ren Klyce, and Richard
Hymns deserve a lot of credit for the effects they created. Sound designers or foley artists, are probably
the most underrated jobs in all of cinema. Because if they’re doing their job right,
you’re not even supposed to notice. When done well, you’d never know those sounds
were created in a studio, and not captured the day of shooting. And it goes further than just creating an
ambience to a scene, or something like a realistic punch effect, but creating sounds that don’t
exist in our world, like this one. Chances are you already know exactly what
that sound comes from, but how? It’s just a combination of the idle sound
of a projector and the hum of a TV recorded from the right angle, but we all know that’s
the sound of a lightsaber. A blaster is just a slinky stretched out and
then struck. That’s the power of good sound design, making
our ears believe a lie, it’s how you can use a soundbyte of bacon cooking, cut under footage
of rain and no one can tell it’s out of place. Where a good film score will often be credited
for part of what makes a film memorable, all too often good sound design goes underappreciated
and undiscussed, but it’s an integral part of what can make a film great, just try and
imagine Star Wars without the sound of a lightsaber, or Chewbacca’s and Darth Vader’s signature
voices, and I don’t think we need to revisit what Fight Club would sound like with different
sound effects. Sound design can absolutely make or break
a film, and while Fight Club has many things going for it besides good sound design, I
feel that the work of Ren Klyce and Richard Hymns are every bit a part of what makes Fight
Club so great.


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