The Green Mile (1999) – The Effects of Sound

Title: The Green Mile

Writer:  Stephen King and Frank Darabont

Director: Frank Darabont

Year: 1999

Actors: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse

The Movie: The Green Mile is a modern classic starring Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard that works on death row  in the 1930’s in the south.  John Coffey, played by Michael Clarke Duncan, is a prisoner on death row and has an incredible gift that unfolds through the film.  The story by Stephen King and the acting of Hanks and Duncan are magic.  These talents mixed with great directing, cinematography and editing make this film good enough to go into the history books as a “must see” classic.  In this blog, we will explore the effects that sound has on the movie watching experience.

The three basic categories of sound in film are dialogue, sound effects and music.

Dialogue: The dialogue in film is simply defined as the actors talking (or screaming, or whispering) to each other.  This is typically the most prevalent “sound” in most films.  Dialogue helps us determine the personalities of characters and understand the plot and theme in a film.  Dialogue helps the viewer get to the heart of the movie quicker.  As described by Goodykoontz (2014), “effective movie dialogue expands or elaborates upon what is visible on the screen and does not simply repeat in words what is already obvious in the action”.  The use of dialogue also helps the viewer understand the theme in a film:

This fantastic scene, in which Paul asks forgiveness of Coffey for having to carry out the execution, exposes the theme of the movie to us.  This discussion means something a little different to everyone, but to me it represents that unselfish giving is what true good really is.  The sound of the dialogue contains a pleading and sad tone, and along with the music in the background sets the mood of the scene to send the message of the theme beautifully.  Try to imagine this scene without the different tones in the dialogue and without the music in the background – the effect would be vastly different for the viewer and the impact would be reduced dramatically.

Sound Effects: Sound effects in a film are all of the sounds outside of the dialogue and music.  These include the creaks, bangs, crowd noises, footsteps, and everything else that rounds out the spectrum of noises heard.  Sound effects, even though they might seem to be a natural part of a scene, are almost always added in.  According to Goodykoontz, “recording natural sound in a usable way while filming a movie can prove almost impossible”.  Adding the sound effects after allows for the dialogue to be clearly captured and represented and the sound effects’ volume to be adjusted appropriately in the scene.

In this very sad scene, the intricate sounds of the guards putting the straps on and the sound of the sponge with the water is isolated to highlight the reality of what is about to happen.  These very real sounds, including the sound of electricity when it is initiated and the popping of the lights, make the  death of John Coffey a very significant, and real, event in the movie.  The effect that this reality has on the viewers’ emotions is even more significant….

Music: Music in film allows the viewer to get into a certain mood to accentuate the level of action in a certain scene or to pull out a specific emotion in conjunction with the scene.  The right music in a film is critical to its success  and, according to Goodykoontz (2014),  “music has been a crucial part of the moviegoing experience since before the advent of recorded sound in films.”  Music can add real magic to a scene:

As John Coffey takes Mr. Jingles into his hands, the music alerts the viewers that something good is about to happen.  As Mr. Jingles comes back to life, the music follows suit and portrays the magic that John Coffey possesses.  This also allows the fantasy sub-genre of the film, and the story, to be shown.

As you can see, sound has its large part into making a movie what it is!

References:

Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C.P. (2014). Film: From Watching to Seeing (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Warner Bros. Pictures (1999 December 10). The Green Mile Official Trailer – Tom Hanks Movie HD [Video File].  Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki4haFrqSrw

Warner Bros. Pictures (1999 December 10). The Green Mile – It Was A Kindness You Done – The Green Mile (4/5) Movie CLIP HD [Video File]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=083OMBnPA3c

Warner Bros. Pictures (1999 December 10). The Green Mile – John Coffey’s Execution [Video File]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mQvO7fZrH8

Warner Bros. Pictures (1999 December 10). The Green Mile – Mr. Jangles’ Resurrection [Video File]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzpxU3ePTWU

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