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The Wachowskis’ 1999 sci-fi classic The Matrix won four Academy Awards, including for its sound and sound effects editing. Two decades later, its Oscar-winning supervising sound editor and designer Dane A. Davis returned for the Lana Wachowski-helmed The Matrix Resurrections. A key question for Davis was how much to pay homage to the original.
“That was my very first discussion with Lana after I read the script,” Davis admits of the story, which again follows Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, traveling between a simulation masquerading as reality and the real world. “We start from the assumption that there has to be a consistency to the two worlds, the real world and the virtual world, which ironically is more like our world. And the real world is something we don’t know — it’s way in the future. My big question was, how much did everything evolve? Lana said right off [the bat] that things only evolved as a necessity. Things that work perfectly did not evolve. Why change something that functions perfectly? That was a very illuminating comment.”
Davis says he did some “archeology” to find the original recording from the prior movies, explaining, “It was a vocabulary, defining those realities that had to be created for the [original] trilogy, and within the trilogy, there was evolution.”
Of course, the audio postproduction tools used by the sound team had matured. “The audio technology that I used, all the apps that I used then, none of them exist anymore,” he says, adding that he used today’s tools to create the feeling of the original sounds. “The feeling had to be consistent, even though I was physically using different tools.”
When Davis tapped the original recordings from two decades ago, he didn’t just collect the more tricky sound effects, but even elements such as the fights. “They had to have a similar feel. I used the actual recordings that we did, like a couple of jiujitsu fighters [who were recorded] with a lot of microphones. I went back to those sounds, but I threw away all of the final library that I created and created a new library using modern digital audio tools, which are magnificent in their naturalness.”
For Resurrections, Davis shared supervising sound editor responsibilities with his longtime collaborator Stephanie Flack, who was no stranger to the franchise, having worked as supervising dialogue editor on 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
The pair describe the difficult and delicate work on “super bullet time,” when The Analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris) uses bullet time against Neo. “The approach that I had to take for the original bullet time was meant to feel like real time from Neo’s perspective,” Davis explains. “It couldn’t be sound slowed down. You couldn’t just have all these deep slowed down, haunted-house sounds. It had to seem completely real because, for Neo, he was in real time.”
But for the super bullet time look, he says he needed a different approach. “I had to take some of those original sounds and just think about how to expand the time and keep it in the real-time pitch range. And that was the principle, especially the very beginning, when you see him pick up the gun … and the very first explosion and the blast coming out of the barrel.
“That, for me, was that moment of super bullet time, where everything had to be time-expanded a great deal,” he continues. “It required completely different sounds to make that work. And then after that, the scene is essentially a dialogue and music scene, so we couldn’t have this intrusive sound. We went back to some of the original bullet-stopping sounds, this ‘whoop’ sound, and we figured out that we could time those for when we saw the bullet barely moving from Neo’s perspective, which is our perspective, and time that with the dialogue and music.”
Those sounds, he says, were a combination of elements including explosions and even turbulence from a jet engine.
Unlike bullet-time shots in the original movies, the supervising sound editors point out that there’s conversation as super bullet time occurs, meaning dialogue and music added to the complexity of the sound. Flack notes that it was shot on location, and to get the shots needed for the visual effects, the cameras were not always running at the standard 24 frames per second. “[For the dialogue,] we’ve got a combination of ADR, cheated lines and production [sound], all at different rates. And it’s not just a matter of slowing something down to fit, because that’s going to sound unnatural. It was a lot of work. And then there was the interplay with the effects and the music. It was very complicated to mix because the viewer has to naturally navigate their way through the scene without feeling that they’re being led, in a way.”
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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