Film Sound Analysis

In our communications class we’ve been reading The Conversations a book containing dialogues between novelist Michael Ondaatje and infamous film editor Walter Murch.  Walter Murch has edited many iconic movies such as The Godfather andApocalypse Now.  In their conversations Murch and Ondaatje discuss different editing processes, and how editing can change the entire effect of a film.  For this project our teacher encouraged us to watch a Walter Murch film, and to critique it based on its sound and editing.  Please don’t hate me Dr. Knight, but I didn’t critique a Murch film.  I was planning on watching a Murch film for this assignment, but last weekend my roommates and I decided to watch the movie Taken.

Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former government agent who must travel to Paris to find his daughter who was kidnapped.  We had been talking about the importance of editing in class and the entire time I watched the film, I was focused on the music and how it added to the scene, the subtle background noises, and all the little details.  This is an action packed movie, and Mills must rely on his senses and pay attention to details to find his daughter.  Because Mills has the ability to detect the tiniest details and use them to his advantage, it was interesting to note how particular the editors had to have been.  In a film, every cut, noise, sound, and clip of music contribute to the final result, and in Taken it is easy to see why.

DVD Cover


The following clip is a pivotal scene in the movie, because it is the one where Kimmy (Mills’ daughter) is kidnapped.  Immediately Bryan tells his daughter to be as descriptive and precise as she can and to pay attention to details about the men who are going to take her.  The same advice proves true for my critique of the film.  The background music isn’t really music, but rather it is a collection of ominous tones.  At some points you can here where the tones stop and there is only talking, or when there is no talking the tones start up.  While Kimmy is hiding under the bed, you can hear her breathing and crying, but you can also hear the men approaching.  The creaking of the floorboards and doors opening as they walk down the hall heighten the suspense.  Once she is pulled from underneath the bed, there is shuffling and her screams almost sound muffled.  It almost sounds like someone is grabbing her mic and it is being muffled and picking up handling noises.  But I also thought it could be the phone hitting the floor and the noises becoming muffled as they get further away from the phone.  You can hear Kimmy struggling against her attackers, and if you listen closely you can hear someone hit the mirror and it shatter, which is what Bryan finds later on in the movie when he arrives in Paris.

Taken Movie Good Luck Scene from Kaspar on Vimeo.

After Kimmy is dragged out of the room, the phone is still connected and you can hear a man’s footsteps as he walks around the room.  His breathing gets louder as he gets close to the phone, and you can hear the sound change as he picks it up and just listens.  The attacker is breathing heavily into the phone waiting for Bryan to speak.  The ominous sounds are gone, and all that can be heard is breathing and the noises of someone handling a cell phone.  Bryan then speaks and the tone starts up again so softly that it is barely noticeable at first.  As he speaks and his tone and words become more threatening, the music picks up as well heightening Bryan’s threats:

Threat to Kidnapper

I think it is important that there are no other noises besides this low even tone and that Bryan’s words are the focus of this part because his words are so powerful and his tone is so confident; he’s threatening and we know to be scared.  The music comes to a climax and goes silent right as Bryan utters his last words:”I will kill you.”, which really helps emphasize his threat.  The tones the editor chose seem to be slow and calculated and coming from a single instrument.  This adds to the scene because Bryan’s words are slow and calculated, and every move he makes for the rest of the film is calculated and executed perfectly.  Kimmy’s kidnapper then tells Bryan, “Good Luck” and you can hear him smash the phone to break it right before the line goes dead.

The end of this clip jumps forward to a part later in the movie where Bryan hunts down the kidnappers’ headquarters and has them say “Good Luck” so he can find the one who took Kimmy.  Bryan memorized the sound of the voice so that he could identify it later on.  When he hands the piece of paper to Marko (the man sitting at the table), the only noise heard is the paper crinkling as it is unfolded.  After the men read it and chuckle to one another, Marko turns to Bryan to translate the phrase, and the ominous tones start up again.


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