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Sound Design and Science Fiction [Paperback]

by William Whittington
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 1, 2007 0292714319 978-0292714311

Sound is half the picture, and since the 1960s, film sound not only has rivaled the innovative imagery of contemporary Hollywood cinema, but in some ways has surpassed it in status and privilege because of the emergence of sound design.

This in-depth study by William Whittington considers the evolution of sound design not only through cultural and technological developments during the last four decades, but also through the attitudes and expectations of filmgoers. Fans of recent blockbuster films, in particular science fiction films, have come to expect a more advanced and refined degree of film sound use, which has changed the way they experience and understand spectacle and storytelling in contemporary cinema.

The book covers recent science fiction cinema in rich and compelling detail, providing a new sounding of familiar films, while offering insights into the constructed nature of cinematic sound design. This is accomplished by examining the formal elements and historical context of sound production in movies to better appreciate how a film sound track is conceived and presented.Whittington focuses on seminal science fiction films that have made specific advances in film sound, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, THX 1138, Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner (original version and director's cut), Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Matrix trilogy and games—milestones of the entertainment industry's technological and aesthetic advancements with sound.

Setting itself apart from other works, the book illustrates through accessible detail and compelling examples how swiftly such advancements in film sound aesthetics and technology have influenced recent science fiction cinema, and examines how these changes correlate to the history, theory, and practice of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking.

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Frequently Bought Together

Sound Design and Science Fiction + Sound-On-Film: Interviews with Creators of Film Sound + The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create and Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects
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Editorial Reviews


"Sound Design is a major achievement in film studies that should be widely read as a general introduction to the underappreciated art and practice of sound. Whittington makes a compelling case for the centrality of sound to the modern Hollywood aesthetic. While surveying the evolution of sound technology, post-production practices and design in seminal science-fiction films of the last forty years, he concurrently provides a comprehensive introduction to the various components of the soundtrack and how they create meaning. He carefully defines terms such as Foley and source music not just in a glossary but as they arise, in such a way that the book can serve as a textbook on sound design in general, not just on the one genre...given the brilliant research that has been devoted to the transition to sound, I am particularly excited that Whittington has chosen to focus on more recent developments." Elisabeth Weis, Screen 2008, issue 49

About the Author

WILLIAM WHITTINGTON is Assistant Chair of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292714319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292714311
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #708,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Whittington, Ph.D. is the Assistant Chair of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, where he teaches courses in film and television history, genre studies, digital culture, audio culture, adaptation, film and Buddhism, and gender and sexuality in film, television and new media. He has written articles on genre, audio and digital culture, animation, new media and technology, and he is the author of SOUND DESIGN AND SCIENCE FICTION (University of Texas Press, 2007). He recently contributed a chapter on "Sound Design" to SOUND AND MUSIC IN FILM AND VISUAL MEDIA, edited by Graeme Harper, and he is currently the Managing Editor of SPECTATOR, a journal of film and television criticism at the University of Southern California. His creative work includes the award winning short film "Fear," based on a poem by Raymond Carver, which deals with one man's fears of love and death. He is currently working on a new book entitled SOUND DESIGN AND HORROR (forthcoming). More information about the author, his current projects and teaching can be found at:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sound and two Blade Runners May 11, 2007
By sjedis
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm one of those picky people when it comes going to the movies. I always go early and only to specific theaters to make sure I get the best seat. I want to see a movie the way it was meant to be seen. After reading William Whittington's Sound Design & Science Fiction Film, I realized that where I sit is just as important if you want to hear the film the way it was meant to be heard. I've also gained an appreciation for what goes into how I experience a movie.

One of the most enjoyable parts of this exploration is that it focuses on my favorite genre, science fiction. It's a logical choice for experimentation and certainly technological innovation, after all, what does a alien, a light saber, or a pod racer sound like? Ask Ben Burt. It is up to the imagination of the designers like Burt to create the realities of that imagined universe. It's been 30 years since I saw Star Wars for the first time, but the sensation of the opening as Vader's ship passes, seemingly, overhead and onto the screen is still crystal clear.

While Whittington explores the development of the sound design through films like THX 1138, Star Wars, Exterminator II, Alien, and the Matrix, my favorite chapter is the one on the two Blade Runners, one of my favorite films. I have my own issues with director's cuts and though I loved the visual sensation, music, and the Sam Spade-like voiceover of the original 1982 version, I almost wish I hadn't seen Blade Runner until the director's cut came out in 1992. But, it's like the judge asking the jury to disregard the previous statement, it took some convincing for me to see how the basic elements of the story had changed.

Whittington goes carefully through both versions of the film and, skeptical the whole way, I had to re-examine my own memory of the story.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and rigorous May 3, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm teaching "Sound Design in Science Fiction and Horror Films," and so was of course delighted when I came across this book. Academically sound and insightful, I had a sophomore the other day come up after class and say "I really like this book. I thought it was going to be boring, but it's really interesting." High, high praise. It's much more of a thematic, conceptual exploration than any kind of a "how-to" or even "how they did it," so if you're looking for information on how to create sound design for science fiction, this isn't your book. But if you are interested in examining, for instance, how in science fiction "the sonic landscapes begin to emphasize a greater uneasiness in relation to technology, scientific breakthroughs and the future" with some specific illustrations from movies like Alien, 2001, and Star Wars, then this book is for you. This is an area of study that could use a lot more books like this! Sound design studies, to the front. Next we need the same kind of treatment for Horror films.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Film Studies Must-Read April 7, 2007
If you're interested in Sound Design, Science Fiction, or both, you must read this book. If you're teaching a course on either of the topics, you must assign this book for your students to read. Well researched, an easy read, yet rigorous... What more could you ask for?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insights on a neglected topic April 11, 2007
I know of no other book that considers sound in science fiction films in this depth. The case studies of such films as 2001 and T2 are fascinating. Whittington writes engagingly and accessibly, making the book valuable not just to academically inclined readers but to casual science fiction fans as well.
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