Sound, Film and SciFi-a few questions

In “The day the earth stood still” as well as in  –countless– other movies that appeared more or less in the same era (ca1950s) every element constituting the sound component (motifs, melodies, voices, ie diegetic and non-diegetic sound) is carefully attached to a specific meaning.

1) what kind of meaning is every component of sound conveying?

2) how does the sound converge with other elements of the film (setting, lighting, camera angle, shot constructions etc..) to convey such meanings?

3) how is the very personality of characters defined by sound?


4 Responses to “Sound, Film and SciFi-a few questions”

  1. Meredith Barrett Says:

    1) The meaning conveyed by each component of sound in the film is a feeling of mystery, unknown, and skepticism. The ethereal sound of the theramin during the initial landing of Klaatu’s ship serves as a boundary between the normal terrestrial elements and the extraterrestrial “other” (Klaatu himself). The crescendos in musical interludes even allude to his “otherness” in the emphasis of the link between his ethereal qualities and the music’s otherwordly sound.

    2) The sound (music, even ambient noise) converges with elements of lighting to reiterate this feeling of unknown, or the “other”, by placing emphasis on shadow where it veils Klaatu’s face or figure. In the scene where he is being held after his landing, all we see of Klaatu for a substantial period of time is a shadowy silhouette, hinting at the possibility that his figure is human-like, but NOT human.

    3) As with the previous question, Klaatu’s “mysterious” personality is intimated by the celestial quality of the music and sound effects that accompany his presence on-screen. Even in the relatively conservative, mundane environment of the boarding house, the same recurring musical theme appears when Klaatu appears, highlighting the dramatic irony of the audience knowing he is the “alien” while his house-mates remain ignorant.

  2. yes, Klaatu is definitely an enigmatic figure whose nature is neither human, not quite alien, it has something familiar, but also something ethereal and incomprehensible. you might have noticed how he sometimes (during the scene at the cemetery) sounds naive (just like an unexperienced boy) and, simultaneously, incredibly wise (wiser than the rest of human beings).

    how much of that sound (especially crescendos) is simply used to enhance suspense and capture the attention of the spectator?

  3. Ariel Kroon Says:

    This doesn’t respond to any question in particular, but is more of a general observation that I made while watching the movie.

    I noted how, at the cemetery, the “taps” of the trumpet playing was very sad, and also very reminiscent of loss – loss of human life, in this case. Klaatu’s reaction to the cemetery highlights this: he sees the war that caused the deaths both a wasteful loss of life, as well as an inherent loss of humanity as a value in itself. War, it is suggested, by its very nature is inhumane, an incomprehensible abandonment of all that makes us human. The music highlights Klaatu’s innocence with the high, melancholy notes of the trumpet; an elegy for perhaps lost innocence, and a way of contrasting Klaatu and Bobby.

  4. Jenn Rickert Says:

    Just like every sense that we can experience through film, sound plays a crucial role in not only immersing us as an audience but also in defining different aspects of a film to us.

    Perhaps due to the age of the film but most likely on purpose, we find a very distinct use of sound and music in “They Day the Earth Stood Still.” In this film we have sounds to instill fear, curiosity, apprehension and most importantly, to give an added side to characters. This is most easily seen with Klaatu’s “score” (if you will) that is repeated over the course of the film in only slightly varied ways. Each time we are drawn back to the initial emotions and associations that were set up when that score was first heard. It’s a very common practice and is something that has been seen in countless movies before and since this film.

    Quite often, sound is also used in conjunction with a change of scenery, film cuts and rarely even to enhance dialogue. In this movie, it is used mostly to help give us a more subtle, ambient, impression of what’s going on on the screen. Earthly things are given more familiar “natural” styles of music, whereas things associated with Klaatu and space, tend to involve more radical sounds and scores. This allows the director to convey a message without directly saying it–a key element to any good piece of entertainment media.

    Though I’ve already briefly touched upon it with Klaatu, other characters are given music to represent things about them that we may not normally associate. Typical to this is youthful associations with children, pastoral music with family circumstances and strained worrysome music when dealing with a clearly panicked crowd.

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