Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Audio Visual Muting in Film Language

Audio/Visual language in film is constantly changing. Often, just by looking at a scene of two we are able to tell what era the film belongs to. Camera technology has changed, bringing changes to colours and hues and lighting. Special effects technology has change – what they can make you believe on screen these days is incredible. But also, the styles of film making have changed. Films used to be slow and languid in times gone past. But now they are fast and pacey, perhaps reflecting the changes in our own real lives.

The Matrix was a defining movie in terms of visual language. The most iconic scene from the Matrix is when the agent is fired at and starts dodging bullets. Perhaps for the first time, speed was shown in slow motion.

The second technique that is becoming more and more popular is the muting of explosions. Instead of explosions getting louder and louder, we now have explosions which are muted, as if we’re hearing them through ear muffs.

I like to call them examples of muting in film language, where, to depict a certain audio visual quality, you show exactly the opposite of that.

Both of the above examples work because media has made us realise the limits of human perception. Moreover, it has made these limits commonplace. There’s only so much speed that you can perceive. You can probably get a great sense of exhilaration when the camera shows you the interior of an F1 race car. But if you’re going at mach 3 in a fighter jet, the human senses saturate out. Same with sound. Once the decibel levels are beyond a certain point, we are no longer able to hear anything at all.

These sensation are so much beyond human experience that the only way to see them is to slow them down or to mute them. This muting too is done with the aid of technology. The very same technology that made these sensation accessible in the first place. This complete immersion in a sensory world that’s completely created by technology is cinemas gift to us modern viewers.


  1. interesting observation :)

  2. Isn't the muting of explosions done to make it appear more real?
    The pain threshold of the human ear is around 130dB.
    A 1 tonne TNT bomb produces 210dB.
    I believe your ears will stop working for a while (if not forever) at exposure to 210dB and a ringing would ensue.

  3. @grishma: thanks!

    @arya: Sure, that's one way of reading it. :)