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How 'Oppenheimer's' sound designer turned thunder and train noise into a seat-rattling atomic blast

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How 'Oppenheimer's' sound designer turned thunder and train noise into a seat-rattling atomic blast

Over the course of four decades, Oscar-winning sound designer Richard King has accumulated a library of tens of thousands of thuds, thwacks, clacks and other original recordings, yet he’s still always searching for something new.

“I’m a big fan of found sounds, things you might find on YouTube, any sort of natural phenomena, like volcanoes,” says King, speaking from the Eagle Rock home he shares with three dogs.

A few years ago, King became smitten with scratchy audio of the sonic boom produced by a meteor explosion over Russia. “When the shock wave hit the earth, dogs started barking, car alarms went off everywhere, the camera shook,” he recalls. “The explosion was recorded on a built-in mic, but it captured enough of the feeling that I thought, ‘Someday I’ll have a place to use this.’”

Sure enough, when director Christopher Nolan asked him to emulate the sound of the world’s first thermonuclear device for “Oppenheimer,” King had his epic-scaled 2013 Chelyabinsk asteroid reference close at hand.

“Chris loves to make big, bold statements, and I love to create sounds for large events while trying to make them relatable,” says King, who won sound editing Academy Awards for Nolan’s movies “Dunkirk,” “Inception” and “The Dark Knight.” (His fourth Oscar was for Peter Weir’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”)

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“I try to make sounds where an audience member would think, ‘I can imagine something like that in the world.’”

Real-world asteroid shock waves may have inspired King’s re-creation of the 1945 “Trinity test” detonation, but the explosion heard in movie theaters actually combined some 20 different elements into one mighty wall of sound. King breaks it down: “We built things from conventional explosions, we had some hard rock slams, thunder that we modified a bit, sounds of train [cars] shunting together where they make a gigantic bang.” The resulting rumble served Nolan’s often-articulated desire to impact audiences on a visceral level, King says. “Good theaters have sound systems that can reproduce very low frequencies in ways that don’t hurt the ears. It’s a full body experience just like those scientists and military men felt on the [Trinity test] day. You’re not even given a moment to think.”

The seat-rattling nuclear weapon detonation masterminded by J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) evokes peak dread, but even seemingly mundane sequences demanded deep dives from King and his team. When Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty (Emily Blunt), gathers laundry from a clothesline, Nolan wanted the moment “to feel almost like an action scene, showing the power of nature with the snapping sound of clothes being whipped by the wind,” King says. “We flapped sheets, we snapped them, we added little sweeteners of whip cracks to the point where it’s almost frightening, like: ‘You don’t want to get in the way of one of those sheets!’”

King, who studied fine arts at the University of Southern Florida before pursuing film in New York, generally builds his soundscapes layer by layer, as if applying paint to canvas. “The idea is that if you start with one sound and layer another sound on top of it, you’re going to make a third sound. The more you layer, the more you create a dynamic that you could never achieve with the simplicity of one sound.”

But if Nolan had his way, the filmmaker would capture all sounds live on set.

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“Chris wants that tangible realism, so his preference would be to get all the sounds on the days he’s shooting,” King says. “That not being possible, we try to add sounds that feel like they were recorded on the day. Unless you really go overboard, you can get away with a lot.”

Case in point: When Oppenheimer climbs the Trinity test tower in the desert during a windstorm, King’s team added the sound of clacking cables and more. “Oppenheimer’s tie is flapping all over the place, so you add that,” he says. “Sand’s hitting his body, add that. It becomes almost like a photorealistic painting where the deeper you look into it, the more you can add.”

King’s talent for imbuing movie sound with affecting depth — also on display in “Maestro” and, next month, “Dune: Part Two” — reflects a storytelling imagination that goes beyond technique alone.

“For me, sound design is my chance to vicariously be there with the characters and live in their skin for a bit,” King says. “I might throw in something the audience won’t even notice, like an odd-sounding bird, but subconsciously all these elements add up to a rich experience. Chris and I always want to go into the image and make it feel as if you’re looking out your window. You see three dimensions, you hear three dimensions, and the audience assumes all that sound has always been there.”

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Movie Reviews

History of Evil: Shudder Film Review

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History of Evil: Shudder Film Review

Paul Wesley and Jackie Cruz star in History of Evil, which follows an escapee of political prison in 2045 who’s on the run from the sinister theocratic government.


Bo Mirhosseni’s debut feature film is a personal and political ode to his parents, who were both human right activists during the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s. Mirhosseni has always had a desire to mix his love for the horror genre along with his political upbringing to make something he, and audiences, could relate back to the changing attitudes in society today. And ta-da! He’s managed to create the intensely quieting History of Evil. It’s a combination of the horror out in the “real” world along with supernatural elements. Think The Amityville Horror meets Battle Royale but very diligently streamlined to not be too over the top when it comes to the occult or gore. For a horror debut, it’s horrific (in the best way possible)!

Paul Wesley delivers an eerily good performance as Ron, the husband of Alegre (Jackie Cruz), an escapee of political prison, and father of six-year-old Daria (Murphee Bloom). Together, along with Trudy (Rhonda Dents), a trustworthy escort for their trip, they’re on the run and en route to an uncanny secluded safe house. History of Evil is meant to be set in 2045 but hauntingly could pass as the present day. In order to arrive at their hideaway, they must pass a checkpoint. Alegre and Daria climb inside cadaver pouches and wait for armed men to scan their ankle monitors, which will show a fake identity, so they can continue their journey in secrecy.

The four arrive at their safe house finally, constantly staying vigilant by wearing camouflage jackets so that the drones can’t spot them. They only plan on staying for 24 hours so don’t think too much of the only things to eat and drink being two bottles of water, a carrot, which Alegre gives to their dog, and slices of plastic cheese. They radio through to The Resistance, the opposing side to the government and the group in which Alegre is a part of, who are meant to be coming to their rescue but they’ve been delayed at the border. One night is what they initially planned so another can’t be too bad, can it?

What Ron, Alegre, Daria and Trudy are yet to realise is that the horrors outside might just be as bad as the history that the house holds within its walls. There’s no escape, and either way, they’ll be met with evil. History of Evil makes your blood run cold for the first half of the runtime, but loses momentum as the story reaches its climax. It’s cleverly created to make it an evil vs evil narrative where whatever decision the characters make they’ll be surrounded by misfortune, but that makes it feel a little bit too predictable. We know, whatever happens, it won’t be a positive outcome.

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Rhonda Dents as Trudy, Paul Wesley as Ron, Murphy Bloom as Daria, and Jackie Cruz as Alegre stand in a kitchen in Shudder film History of Evi
Rhonda Dents as Trudy, Paul Wesley as Ron, Murphy Bloom as Daria, and Jackie Cruz as Alegre in Bo Mirhosseni’ s History of Evil (Shudder)

When Daria finds someone breathing through a plastic sheet in her wardrobe it creates such a sinister atmosphere, and I wish there was more of that imagery throughout. That image being on the poster makes you think that this will be a theme running throughout but it isn’t. Yes, there are ungodly horrors throughout, but visually, it needed to be more haunting. However, with that being said, the fundamental storyline and the commentary on society is nauseating, maybe enough to make up for the lack of hair-raising visuals.

Mirhosseni is not new to the directorial scene and his resume is already jam-packed with music videos that he’s directed for the likes of Mac Miller, Disclosure and Kehlani. With a debut like History of Evil, I can see his follow up films, especially if they are in the horror genre, being just as good if not better. Seek out History of Evil on Shudder and add it to your watchlist if you want a chilling thriller.


History of Evil will be available to watch on Shudder from February 23, 2024.

History of Evil: Trailer (Shudder)
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Hoda Kotb offers Kelly Rowland 'Today' show 'redo' after alleged dressing room walkout

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Hoda Kotb offers Kelly Rowland 'Today' show 'redo' after alleged dressing room walkout

Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager extended olive branches to Kelly Rowland: an opportunity to return to the “Today” show, and promises to spruce up their backstage accommodations.

The co-anchors discussed making amends with the “Mea Culpa” star and former Destiny’s Child singer a week after she reportedly walked off the “Today” show. Last week, Page Six reported that Rowland and her team abruptly left the New York studio due to a disappointing dressing room.

“There’s no one who’s more gracious or grateful than Kelly,” Kotb told Entertainment Tonight on Wednesday. “We’ve been texting back and forth. … I gave her a call, I said, ‘C’mon girl, we’re waiting. We’ll do a redo.’”

Rowland was set to co-host a segment of the “Today” show with Kotb, but after her abrupt exit, the broadcast vet reportedly scrambled to find a replacement. Ultimately, singer Rita Ora filled the spot. Ora had been scheduled as a guest that morning. (“We had two minutes to prepare,” the singer wrote on Instagram, alongside a carousel of photos and video.)

Kotb’s Wednesday comments echoed sentiments she shared during Tuesday’s broadcast. Addressing reports of the dressing room drama, Kotb said, “she can share my dressing room. We’ll be together.”

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A representative for Rowland praised the singer — “one of the kindest, most amiable humans I have ever met” — this week but did not confirm or deny whether the allegedly subpar dressing room played a role in the singer-actor’s sudden “Today” exit. Kotb, however, admitted on Wednesday that “our dressing rooms are not the greatest.”

“None of them are great,” she said, before likening the backstage spaces to the less-than-luxurious dressing rooms at Broadway venues. “It’s kind of the charm of the ‘Today’ show.”

Bush Hager, who also voiced love for Rowland earlier this week, offered to beautify the “Today” dressing rooms herself, expressing her interest in interior design.

Savannah Guthrie, promoting her new book, “Mostly What God Does,” also told ET that they “need to remodel and decorate” the “Today” dressing rooms. Another report about Rowland’s exit alleged that Guthrie’s questions about Beyoncé and her new music drove the “Freddy vs. Jason” star away. Guthrie did not address those allegations.

“We need ‘Extreme Makeover: Today Show’ edition,” she told the website. “We are in a historic studio — 1A — it’s the same studio that has been used for decades. It’s incredible, it’s iconic and it’s old … if you want history, sometimes you’re going to have a few little chips of paint coming off the walls.”

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She continued: “We try to do our best, and hopefully the main thing is how people feel and the reception they get. I hope they feel the warm hug from all of us on the show, because we’re really grateful for our guests for coming.”

Earlier this week, Rowland received love (and a luxurious dressing room) from daytime TV host Sherri Shepherd. Throwing some subtle shade at the dressing room debacle, the Instagram account of Shepherd’s show shared a video of the 43-year-old’s luxe accommodations, which included a spacious couch, multiple plush chairs and a blue velvet ottoman.

“A TIME WAS HAD with the legendary Kelly Rowland at the Sherri Show,” read the video’s original caption, which has since been edited.

While promoting “Mea Culpa,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, Rowland praised Shepherd for being a “light, positive energy in this space, in this time.”

“We needed you, and I thank you so much for your light,” Rowland said.

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A Different Take On Exorcism But No Scare Fest

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The writing by Peter Sattler and David Gordon Green on the story by Scott Teems, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green was weak. Being a horror film it wasn’t able to bring on the scare fest feel that an exorcist film is associated with. Had the performances of the young girls been not up to the mark, the story would have been a total bore. The only thing that’s decent about the writing is that it took a different approach to exorcism and didn’t take the usual routes which have been used for ages in the franchise.

As the director David Gordon Green tries to salvage a weak story but isn’t able to work his magic around that well. He does bring in some jump scares and some scenes where you’re trying to shut your eyes in horror, but besides those few scenes there’s hardly any other scene where you will be actually palpitating. He definitely got the climax correctly where he is able to keep you hooked till the last shot wanting to know what’s going to happen next.

The cinematography by Michael Simmonds is good. He has managed to not only showcase the locales in a way that you will feel have an eerie feeling, but he has also gotten the lighting very perfectly. As it’s a horror flick and most of the scenes are happening in the dark, there is hardly any scene where you’re unable to comprehend as to what’s happening when. The usage of lights was very nicely done.

Tim Alverson’s editing was good. He managed to keep the film crisp and not exceed more than 2 hours. With a weak storyline, had the film been even longer, it would have made you lose total interest in what’s going to happen in the climax.

David Wingo and Amman Abbasi’s music isn’t something to be wowed about. It’s just about okay. Even if you’re watching with noise cancelling earphones, the background score doesn’t give you that scary haunted feeling. The film missed out a lot here as with some great background score, scenes which weren’t even that scary could have been made to feel very fearful.

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