With so many remakes and unoriginal films coming out these days, I was very excited to check out Oblivion on its opening weekend. Not only am I a huge fan of futuristic sci-fi films, but I am an even bigger fan of the sound design that goes into them. This time though, I was just as interested to hear the score, especially after hearing what the director, Joseph Kosinski, created when choosing Daft Punk to score his last film, Tron: Legacy.

Production of Oblivion

Oblivion is produced by Universal Pictures, it is an adaptation from a graphic novel he co-wrote, but according to the publisher of the novel, it was never published. Disney originally had the rights to the film, but after realizing all the changes needed to get the story to a PG rating, they released it and it was picked up by Universal, which green-lighted the film with a PG-13 rating.

The film was mixed in Dolby Atmos, which I hope to experience one of these days, at Skywalker Sound in Northern CA. Some of the sound team composed of Sound Designer Ren Klyce (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Re-Recording Mixers Juan Peralta (Avatar, WALL-E) and Gary Rizzo (Dark Knight Rises, Inception).

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Sound Design of Oblivion

Since I was already in the area after a production meeting about some post sound work on another feature, I decided to check out this film at the local Cine Capri theater which is equipped with 70′x30′ screen and pushes a 15,000 watt, 150 speaker, Dolby Digital surround sound setup. Of course, once again, I sat in that audio “sweet spot” I talked about in my last review.

The film takes place in the year 2077. Sixty years earlier, Earth was attacked by aliens known to humans as the Scavengers, or “Scavs” for short. The humans won the war by using nukes and in the end make most of Earth uninhabitable from radiation. That is an important aspect of the plot to keep in mind, because it creates a world that does not sound like Earth as we know it. For example, this world doesn’t have birds and insects in it, so it doesn’t have the typical background sound we are accustomed to. Much of the environmental ambience is composed of just wind and waters for a minimal soundscape, which also gives the sound team plenty of dynamic range when the action starts in the film. The surreal visual landscapes, minimal ambience, and emotional score help create a world that draws you in from the beginning.

The biggest sound design aspects the team created are main character Jack Harper’s “Bubbleship,” the monitoring console in the Sky Tower, and the security drones. The Bubbleship, which is a hybrid of a jet fighter and a Bell 47 helicopter, is Jack’s only form of transportation in the wasteland that is Earth. The ship does not have large rotating propellers, so the flying sounds are more like a fighter jet as it wooshes past on the screen. The sound of the ship landing or the engine while on the ground has more of a helicopter sound though. Little effects were created and added to the ship noises for all the electronic components of futuristic travel, such as beeps and clicks for the monitoring gear and GPS-style devices. There is also various sounds of engine components being turned on, some sounding like washing machines and others just like bangs on a trash can.

In addition to the Bubbleship, another new piece of technology is the monitoring console used by supporting character Victoria in the Sky Tower. The best way to describe it is as a giant iPad. The sound team had to create all the bells and whistles you would expect to hear from such a device, as well as the long distance communication interference with the commander of the Tet, a giant space station.

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In the clip below you will hear a scene where Jack is getting ready to take off in the Bubbleship, turning on all the engines and devices. He has a quick chat with Victoria where you can hear the sounds of the monitoring console she is using, and in the end you hear the Bubbleship take off.

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Probably the most interesting sound design aspect is that of the Drones. In the film, Drones are used as security from the “Scavs” and Jack’s job is to repair them when they breakdown. The reason I feel this is the most interesting is because the director and sound designer gave the drones a lifelike characteristic and their own form of communication through the sounds they created. In fact, most viewers may have an emotional connection with them at times. I am wondering if Juan Peralta had some hand in this as the re-recording mixer since he was on the team that did the Disney film WALL-E, which did an amazing job at creating a robotic character seem so life-like with just robotic noises.

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The Score of Oblivion

The score for Oblivion was composed by Anthony Gonzalez of the band M83 and Joseph Trapanese, who did a lot of arranging and synth work on Tron: Legacy. A lot of buzz originally was about the whole band composing the score for this film, although only Anthony Gonzalez worked on it. However, the last song of the soundtrack is credited as the full band.

Overall the score has a great emotional feel behind it. It drives the story as much as the characters do and helps create surreal environments with a tragic beauty to them. The instrumental songs build into dramatic, fully orchestrated arrangements with shimmering electronic elements filtering through. Without even knowing what events in the film these songs would correspond to, Gonzalez beautifully creates tension and induces suspense with each track.

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The sound design of Oblivion is versatile and creates another world through the use of foreign sounds and the absence of typical every day background noise. By removing the known, and inserting the unknown, the sound design team was able to truly suspend reality for viewers. What they had no control over however was the acting. I have to admit that in my opinion Tom Cruise has become so rigid in the roles he plays that they all seem to mesh into one character. It was like Ethan Hunt was dropped into the Bubbleship to fix the drones, and my disillusion with him as an actor almost affected my desire to see the film. I’m glad I decided to see it in spite of Cruise though, as the score and new sound effects definitely made it worth it for an audiophile like me.

Check out the always awesome video profile on Oblivion from Soundworks Collection:

Sound Credits

Matthew Armstrong Boom Operator: Second Unit
Ron Bedrosian Adr Mixer
Danny Caccavo Digital Editorial Support
Lisa Chino Assistant Effects Editor
Brad Duvernet Sound Utility
Frank E. Eulner Sound Effects Editor
Ryan Farris Boom Operator
Ryan J. Frias Digital Editorial Support
Scott Guitteau Sound Effects Editor
David Hughes Sound Effects Editor
Ren Klyce Sound Designer
Daniel Kuzila Sound Utility: Second Unit
Paul Ledford Production Sound Mixer
Erik Magnus Sound Mixer: Second Unit
Marilyn McCoppen Dialogue Editor
Stuart McCowan Sound Effects Editor
Alyson Dee Moore Foley Artist
Cheryl Nardi Dialogue Editor
Al Nelson Supervising Sound Editor
Steve Orlando Supervising Assistant
Anthony Ortiz Sound Utility
Juan Peralta Sound Re Recording Mixer
Gary Rizzo Sound Re Recording Mixer
John Roesch Foley Artist
Brad Semenoff Dialogue Editor
Andy Stallabrass Adr Mixer
Greg Steele Adr Mixer
Paul Tirone Adr Recordist
Justin Van Hout Assistant Adr Recordist
Bonnie Wild Digital Editorial Support
Gwendolyn Yates Whittle Supervising Sound Editor
Ryan Young Adr Recordist
Greg Zimmerman Adr Recordist
Billy Theriot Adr Mixer (Uncredited)

Blog Edited by Holly Foreman

Post Written by James Alire

An accomplished musician and consummate professional, James Alire brings education, passion, and a wide range of experiences to the sound table. He has functioned as an IT specialist, recording engineer, and sound mixer/ editor in many arenas. He lives in Chandler, AZ, where he is expanding his company, 5J Media, to include web design and audio/sound services for musicians and filmmakers. For quotes or to hire James for audio and web services contact 5J Media.