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War of the Worlds
Film: 29 Jun 2005
By: HamiltonSterling


Master and Commander team, Richard King and Hamilton Sterling have reunited for the sound design on Stephen Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Opening worldwide on 29 June 2005, the sound design is already drawing praise from critics, for example:

* As sight, the alien invasion is dazzling; as sound, it will turn your bones to jelly. Nathan Lee, The New York Sun

* The film is a triumph of production and sound design with a restrained use of computer graphics. Frank Gabrenya, The Columbus Dispatch

* [T]he sound design of the picture is among its greatest strengths. Soren Anderson, The News Tribune

* The only moments more frightening than the vicious attacks, aided and abetted by superior sound effects, are the pools of quiet between each offensive. Christian Toto, The Washington Times

Discussion (Descriptions, reviews, discussion):

Apart from a few heavy-handed references to 9/11, the primary metaphor of Spielberg's War of the Worlds seems to be that the Earth is a living cell. Double helixes float by as the opening scene zooms out to reveal a single drop of water that morphs into the Earth (and then into a round traffic light). The Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning characters are shown encircled by jagged glass in scenes toward the beginning and end of the film. Contrast the circular cell-like images associated with humans with the viral tripods attaching themselves with long spindly legs to the surface of the Earth. Initially destructive, they switch to feeding off the cell's energy system once they are established.

For some reason, Spielberg has the tripods buried within the Earth. H.G. Well's original version with cylinders crash-landing was more plausible, so Spielberg must be stretching our credulity for a reason. Perhaps he wants us to see the tripods awakening like latent viruses reactivated by the injection of foreign protein (the aliens riding lightening bolts down from their ships)?

Dakota Fanning's character refuses to let her dad remove a sliver from her finger, pronouncing gravely that "My body will push it out when it is ready." And sure enough the Earth eventually does reject the foreign alien protein, using the microbial defenses purchased at a cost of millions of human lives over millennia. In the optimistic epilogue, the narrator declares that no human has died in vain of disease but has helped to purchase immunity.

This idea of viruses protecting us turns out to be strangely prophetic given the recent evidence of oncolytic adeno-viruses that reside, latent, within our cells, attacking cancer cells and leaving healthy cells untouched.

-- CarlaScaletti - 06 Jul 2005


As part of the all-star sound team working under Supervising Sound Editor/Sound Designer Richard King on War of the Worlds, Hamilton Sterling managed to help pull off a complex and frightening soundscape in a very short amount of time. In order to meet the deadline, each member of the sound crew was assigned specific elements, and Hamilton used Kyma on several of his assigned sounds. including "screaming explosions", "breathing aliens", "viscous goo", and "flying missiles".

Here's how Hamilton describes his "Kyma recipes":

1. How do you make a wet-breathing alien? Take one sound effects recordist, stick a mic in his mouth, add one tablespoon of water and make him swallow. Mix that with the breathing of two very large humans, use Kyma to alter their formants, add some sub, and presto – I don’t think they like our air.

2. How do you make an explosion cry? Get your hands on Pete Johnston's new CrossFilter Sound and cross-breed some shrieking elements with your explosive blasts—merging the two sonorities. Even a simple explosion can become a visceral wail of death.

3. How do you make a giant tripod come up from the ground? (Well, some Kyma tricks must remain my own little secret... )

Like a tripod that's been buried under the earth for millions of years, Hamilton is bursting forth to wreak metaphorical havoc on the sounds of the world!

-- HamiltonSterling - 26 Jul 2005

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