Audio is a major component of any movie, commercial, or television program. The visuals drive the piece, but the audio reinforces it. A man can fall through a pane of glass, but if the sounds that ensues is a chicken cluck then you’re taken out of the moment. The continuity is screwed up; the dissonance becomes apparent, and the editor or audio engineer has failed.
Your Average Joe doesn’t really listen to the audio, and although you might think the audio is slave to the visual you’d be both right and wrong. The visuals do drive, most of the time. If a woman opens a beer you’d expect to hear the cap click, hiss, and pop.
Sadly I couldn’t find a single YouTube video where a beer is opened normally. No matter, because most of the time diegetic (natural) sounds just don’t cut it.
We, the audience, have established in our minds what things are supposed to sound like. We know how a things should sound, and audio editors need to adhere to what we’re used to. Despite what James Bond says, pistol silencers do not sound like this:
It is convenient to use this sound. Sound effects also can carry weight to them.
There is a lot of emphasis if a robber cocks his gun.
Explosions are loud and badass.
Computers and cell phones beep, boop, and chirp a hell of a lot more than they should.
Digital cameras click like film ones.
Electricity always shoots and zaps.
But there is a reason for this. There are reasons for all of these.
The Audio exists to strengthen the appearance of The Video.
These commonplace and unnecessary sound effects are for the lowest common denominator. They reinforce what is happening. You want to feel just how serious Eastwood is right now? You want to know how these Computer Wizards are able to get matching fingerprint analysis with the coolest in computer and software technology? Extra beeping and chirping means that something is really high tech. Case in point:
^ Also, an article for another day…
Before this gets TLDR, (I assume your eyes just skipped there), the point is that commonplace and unnecessary sound effects exist because we don’t have to think about what is happening on the screen. Sound effects punctuate things for us and give us a sense of familiarity. However, there are a few that, when you hear them, instead of paying attention you’re instead trying to figure out where the hell you’ve heard that sound effect before. Chances are it may have been from Sharknado, but that movie is a league of its own, and gets a free pass.
Here are several sounds (that you have most likely heard in many movies) that should be retired from the sound effect archives:
The Only Electrical Charge:
The Short-Lived Explosion: (PHRASING!)
The Noisest Goddamn Door :
Cabinet/Something Hinged Opens:
The Quickest Windstorm:
Lastly, the most famous of them all:
The Wilhelm Scream really isn’t funny to anyone anymore. It’s not even subtle. It isn’t a trademark like Raimi’s car or the Spielberg face. It might have been back in the 80’s for Ben Burtt, but now it just takes me out of the movie. It’s like an old meme. Let it go.
…And although it is not technically a sound effect per se, a well-established “piece” that couldn’t make it to the list:
May you pay closer attention to Audio now. Whether you like it or not, you are presently more enlightened.
You’re welcome, and Happy Pi day!