The Sound of “Prometheus”

While set in the same fictional universe of Ridley Scott’s original offering, and sharing some of its key dramatic events, the director is clear in his intention that his latest film Prometheus is unrelated to the rest of the original franchise. There had been talk of a fifth Alien movie — with Scott reportedly committing to a sequel or prequel a decade ago — but it took 20th Century Fox to persuade the director to cast his unique vision of the origins and purpose of the Alien civilization, while also explaining the genesis of the enigmatic Space Jockey that forms a direct link to the original space explorers from 1979’s landmark motion picture. Sequel, prequel or neither, Prometheus is scheduled for release June 8 through 20th Century Fox.

In essence, the film (originally to be called Paradise) follows a team of scientists as they journey on the spaceship Prometheus to the distant planet of Erix to terraform the world. The crewmembers discover, however, that what they experience from the indigenous life forms is not just a threat to themselves, but to mankind. Prometheus takes advantage of new-generation sound technologies, while very much paying tribute to the original offering. As Michael Fassbender, who plays David, the artificial person in Prometheus, confirmed: “By the end of the third act, you start to realize there’s a DNA of the very first Alien, but none of the subsequent films,” with imagery inspired by its original conceptualist, H.R. Giger.

Working with elements coordinated by supervising sound editors Mark Stoeckinger and Victor Ennis from Soundelux, the intricate soundtrack was re-recorded at Fox’s John Ford Stage in West Los Angeles by Doug Hemphill (sound effects) and Ron Bartlett (dialogue and music). Creature sound design effects — of whichPrometheus features a wide range — were fashioned by Ann Scibelli, Alan Rankin and Harry Cohen. Other members of the sound crew included Foley mixers James Ashwill and Blake Collins; Foley editors Bob Beher, Bruce Tanis and Glenn T. Morgan; Sandy Buchanan handling the recording of computer voices; ADR engineer Derek Casari; ADR recordists Glen Gathard and James Hyde; ADR mixer Andy Stallabrass; dialogue editor Margit Pfeiffer; music editors Joseph Bonn and Del Spiva; and sound effects editor Tim Walston.

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4 Comments on “The Sound of “Prometheus”

  1. Fantastic Article. Really great to read about certain processes and methods that were used throughout the design and mix.

    It’s also nice to note that this review names the majority of the sound team, not just the supervising sound editor etc.

    Anyway, I didn’t think it was possible, but I am even more excited to see this Film now.

  2. I can’t believe so many movies are still mixed using this workflow. I”m sure it’s gonna sound great, but. Using external processors, fx pedals, recording for each pass. Just seems crazy given where the technology is at. I worked on a film where all the audio / score was done in the box and it was amazing how smooth the workflow was. Sounded amazing as a bonus.  I know some folks (usually older folks) say “You gotta use a big analogue console and, and outboard gear!” but I just don’t buy it. Folks used to say you had to edit film using actual film as well. 

  3. I think hybrid is the way to go. Weird HW fx chain can bring much more personality than you’d get with plugins. But on the other hand big part of the whole process can be done ITB very effectively and without loosing anything.

  4. Just saw Prometheus last night and I don’t want to give anything away, but in regards to sound the movie certainly conveyed an amazing variety of atmospheres, emotions, and thrilling effects with their approach to sound design.

    I want to congratulate the sound team as the film sounded amazing as far as technical qualities are concerned, as well as their conceptual choices for the movie as a whole. (I could talk praise for a good day on this movie there’s so much I enjoyed)

    However….
    One element that really took me out of the movie was the fact that inside the spaceship which the humans arrive in, all the dialogue sounded way too dry/ADR’d, and the performance which the actors gave seemed unbelievable to me. For example:
    As the crew is either landing/taking off, and there is obviously a lot of ambient sound in the spaceship with the engines boosting and the ship shaking, they all speak at a really calm and low volume, as if they were on a perfectly quiet ship (which I am sure they originally intended to have) and in real life there is no way, being 5, 10, 20 feet apart from one another, would they hear each other. I thought if their dialogue levels were more true to the environment, where they were raising their voices to hear one another, the sound designers could have taken advantage of the use of reverbs to form the acoustics of the ship and make the audience feel like they were there in the ship.
    I asked my friends who went with me if they noticed this, and they didn’t, so I know it’s likely something only sound people will notice, but I believe the power of acoustics is very strong on the viewer’s subconscious, especially in helping them truly believe the performance.

    I’m curious to see what others who saw the movie thought about this subject in particular, so please, share your thoughts on this topic if you have any.

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