In every Jurassic film, there’s that moment when the audience holds their breath and leans in, waiting for the dinosaur attack. That suspenseful build-up is a staple of the franchise. That, and the T. Rex roar (shout-out to sound designer Gary Rydstrom and his baby elephant recordings). There’s no home setup that can reproduce that T. Rex roar in all its theater-shaking glory.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which hit theaters June 22nd, brings back the iconic T. Rex and the ‘lovable’ Velociraptor Blue, plus a parade of other dinosaurs big and small, and of course a new genetic hybrid dino-terror called the Indoraptor. “One of the producers was quoted as saying, ‘Fallen Kingdom has more dinosaurs than you’ve ever seen in all of the other Jurassic movies combined,’” says supervising sound editor/sound designer Al Nelson.
He clarifies that it’s the quantity of dinosaurs that’s increased, not the variety of species. “Thank goodness, because I can’t imagine how we would come up with all of those different sounds," jokes Nelson.
The team at Skywalker Sound (www.skysound.com) — including re-recording mixer Chris Boyes, co-supervising sound editor Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and sound designer/re-recording mixer Pete Horner are all well acquainted with the Jurassic films. Nelson has worked on three, Whittle and Horner have done two, and Boyes has worked on all five, starting as an assistant sound designer on Jurassic Park (1993). Boyes has managed to work vocalizations from his three sons into each Jurassic release. “They were probably in this film too, as part of the legacy sound effects, but since (by my desire) I was a re-recording mixer and not a sound designer, they weren’t purposefully recorded for Fallen Kingdom,” notes Boyes.
Even with all their collective Jurassic experience, there was one key feature that made Fallen Kingdom unique for the team — their director J.A. Bayona (known for the award-winning film A Monster Calls). Horner says, “J.A. [Bayona] really likes a dynamic soundtrack that gets very, very quiet. He’s not just filling every scene with music. He allows for really articulated silences that build and are carefully shaped. That was something that we just love to do and that adds to the suspense of the movie.”
For example, there’s a scene in Fallen Kingdom that takes place inside a mansion that has glass ceilings. There’s a thunderstorm outside and the rain beats on the ceiling, exciting the acoustics of the rooms below. Boyes, who mixed the sound effects, uses the Dolby Atmos surround field by playing rain in the overhead speakers and spreading the reverb throughout the theater to help define the spaces on screen. It’s a quiet, tense sequence, in which Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) are being hunted by the fearsome Indoraptor. “J.A. just brings the suspense right to the point where you think he can’t go any further and then he drives it even further than that. The key to that moment was finding the silence. If you can find the silence you can then find the place to bring in something loud, and give J.A. what he was looking for— big scare moments,” says Boyes.
Boyes, Nelson and Horner
When a soundtrack gets quiet, the audience gets quiet. Quiet scenes often cue the audience into listening carefully for auditor clues, like where the raptor is in relation to our heroes. Boyes says, “As mixers and sound designers, we have to remember that loudness is useful at times but too much of it can really hurt a film because people tend to peel back and disengage. The beauty of J.A.’s approach was that he’s courageous enough to allow the film to get quiet and it’s very effective.”
Even for the loud, chaotic moments, like the eruption of the whole volcanic island that sends every dinosaur running for its life, the sound team looked for ways to find quiet moments to counterpoint the loud ones so that the long sequence wasn’t a barrage of sound. But it wasn’t an easy feat. In fact, Boyes admits, “It was really torturous to mix. It nearly broke me at 3am at one point until somebody pulled the plug. We had to keep the beats of comedic dialogue, and the music moments where the sound effects played in parity with the score, and at the same time have this cataclysmic drama unfolding in the physical realm.”
One of the most difficult moments to mix in that sequence was after Owen yells, “Run!” He’s just seen the volcano’s peak explode and it’s crashing down on them. Effects-wise, there was a massive rumble, dinosaur vocals, and big smashing, crashing, and crunching sounds as everything flees in terror. Boyes made several attempts at mixing all of those loud elements together but ultimately it didn’t result in the dynamic sound they were looking for. “Then I realized that loudness is not our friend here and that pushing harder is going to give you less rather than more,” says Boyes.
So he took everything out. Then, he soaked the dinosaurs’ vocals, footsteps, and impact sounds in deep reverb and “let them live in this ethereal world,” says Boyes. Next, he slowly brought in the rumble but he didn’t want it to get too loud. “I just let it be the predominant sound and all the vocalizations and hard sounds that we would normally hear were in reverb. It sort of tells the audience that this rumble is so huge that all the sounds you normally hear are muffled and held back because of it. That worked quite well.”
Director Bayona and picture editor Bernat Vilaplana were very attuned to the balance of the sound elements, how all the sounds played together to create the ebb and flow of the soundtrack. “They weren’t just focused on what a dinosaur sounded like but what that dinosaur sounded like in this environment in this scenario with these elements involved,” says Nelson.
This led to a rolling mix. As the scenes were being designed in sound editorial, Horner would quickly mix the dialogue, music and effects together before presenting the scenes to Bayona and his team. “That’s a little unusual for the workflow on a film like this, but it really helped them to understand how the pieces would fit together and how we should craft the scenes. So even prior to the first temp mix, I was doing quick temps that they would listen to and give us pretty detailed notes that would help guide us to the finished product,” says Horner.
“What makes the soundtrack so special is that it goes to extremes,” says Nelson. It builds to a huge peak of sound effects and then it goes to near silence. Its extreme dynamic range was crafted specifically for the theater environment. “From a sound design perspective, you can’t just put explosion on top of explosion on top of explosion. The more stuff you pile on, the smaller it sounds. We had to figure out how to play perspective and constantly reset the sound to make it sound new and bigger,” says Nelson.
Horner adds, “This film in particular fully used the Atmos speakers and the full dynamic range that you get in the theater. You don’t get that on your home setup, because the mix is being squashed through a couple of speakers. In a theater, you get the subtlety and the quiet and the loud jump-scares and the excitement of it. This track, in particular, is designed to play in the theater.”
It’s not just the sound that makes Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom theater-worthy. The level of visual detail is also meant for the big screen. Audiences aren’t leaning in to see what’s happening. Instead, they’re leaning in on those quiet moments that precede the dino jump-scares. It’s an experience that’s more fun when shared with friends and family. “To see it on the big screen and to hear it with John Williams’ themes and Michael Giacchino composing and all these cool sounds, it’s an experience that can’t be matched by anything at home, not even on a really good home theater. This is the kind of film that you want to enjoy in the theater and come away feeling like you really had a journey, an experience that was fun and exciting, and scary, and everything in between. This is a perfect film for the theater,” concludes Boyes.