“Mad Max: Fury Road” is an intense action film that uses mostly real stunts. It’s surprising because the majority of action films now rely heavily on digital tricks and computer-generated images.
But there’s one element in “Mad Max” where fiction plays a huge role in creating a believable atmosphere — the film’s sound. Mark Mangini is the sound designer behind the film and he’s nominated for an Oscar this year (along with David White) for sound editing.
The Frame’s James Kim spoke with Mangini about how a famous novel inspired his approach to “Mad Max: Fury Road."
What inspired you to create the sounds for "Mad Max"?
I had this notion that the truck itself was an allegory for "Moby Dick." If you think about this a little bit, we saw Immortan Joe — the leader of the war party — as [Captain] Ahab. He's hellbent on killing the great white whale — the War Rig.
We wanted to personify it as this giant, growling, breathing, roaring beast. It had to be grounded in reality, but we wanted it to be more than that, so we designed whale sounds to play underneath all those truck sounds to embody the real sounds and to personify it.
And to further that storytelling aspect, the "Moby Dick" aspect, at the end of the movie they're shooting harpoons at it. We already have the visual metaphors to support this allegory. Every time it was struck with a harpoon, you hear these deep whale-like groans to say that it has been hurt and wounded. It's not just the sound of metal into metal. When the harpoons do pierce the War Rig and the milk sprays out, we use the sounds of whale blowholes.
Was there a particular scene that you worked on that emphasizes your work on the film?
At the end of the film, when Nux, Nicholas Hoult's character, throws the War Rig into a t-bone maneuver to sacrifice himself and block the pass so that Immortan Joe's party can't get through and continue to chase our heroes, we go into a beautiful ballet-like slow motion sequence as the War Rig upends and turns on its side and crashes. All those sounds, there are no realistic sounds there. Those are all whale sounds and actually slowed-down bear sounds.
What we wanted to say to the audience was, This is a death. This is the death of the great white whale. All you hear as it rolls over in slow motion is the final death rattle of a dying creature. It just felt like the right sound to use.
What do you want the audience to take away from your work on the film?
It's my goal to convince the audience that what they're hearing really happened and all we really did was we went to that location and hung a microphone and everything you heard got captured in real time. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Every single sound, no matter how subtle or simple — from the simplest little footstep sound to a humpback whale — is considered, composed [and] orchestrated to have an affect on the audience.
So I really need to find a way to step as far back from the artifice of what I'm doing. And sometimes that begins with finding the most real sounds I can so that it's the most believable to you as the audience.