By Karen Posada
In anticipation of Indiana Jones: ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ coming to select IMAX theaters on September 7th, after 31 years for a one week only event followed by the Blu-Ray release of ‘Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures’ on September 18th. We had an exclusive chance to talk to the sound designer Ben Burtt and visual effects director Dennis Muren from the Indiana Jones movies at the one an only SkyWalker Ranch in San Francisco, California. They were able to tell us some secrets about how it all came together back when it was made, their memories of it all and what were some of the challenges they had to face.
ShowBizCafe.com (SBC): When you see the films are there any memories that come to mind from when you made them?
Dennis Muren (DM): ‘The Temple of Doom’ has some really memorable moments, like the big mine car chase because it was very difficult…we couldn’t get the shots for real, so we made miniature sets and we shot them all with Nikon still cameras as those were the only ones that would fit though the tunnels. [Having] smaller sets saved a heck of a lot of money, which everybody was happy about, because no matter how these movies appear they were always done with very tight budgets and we had to work within that. –Another neat experience was that I got to act in one of the scenes of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, which is when Harrison goes on the airplane and there’s this spy sort of in front of him reading this “Life” magazine and that’s me. It was one of the weirdest experiences going from behind the scenes to being in front of the camera with Spielberg looking here and Harrison being over there. It was a pretty darn neat experience.
Ben Burtt (BB): We would always go on expeditions to gather sound or invent special props. [For example] the mine car chase that Dennis mentioned, we wanted to get cars clattering down the tracks and squealing around corners…We ended up making arrangements to go to Disneyland at night when the park was closed and ride all the roller coasters and record them. So we would go into “Space Mountain” turn the lights on and turn the music off and ride the cars or stand along side the tracks and get the squealing around the corners. We had a wonderful all night Disney experience. That was fun!
-For ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ we would come here to SkyWalker ranch, this was before any of these buildings existed. We found that this canyon [where the tech building stands] had wonderful acoustics, because the sound would slap back and forth and we did all the gunshots here for Indy’s gun and we did it with much higher power rifles of course because everything in Indiana Jones is exaggerated. Gary Summers did the whip cracks on the road right here next to where this building is today and you’d get the echo and the trees and all that. So, there are many pleasant memories of deriving sounds and the hundreds of things we did to gather them.
SBC: During restoration did you guys talk about the need of brining in new sound?
BB: There was never a talk about changing the effects at all. It’s very hard to change the movie and modernize the movie and put in any effects that wouldn’t exist at the time. What I did on ‘Raiders’ for instance is that we did so much touch ups of things. We had to expand the use of the surround tracks, because it is available to us now in a way that it wasn’t back then. I had the original stereo recordings of all those sounds so fortunately I saved all that and could find it. I took the time to match up the recordings to the original release of the movie and put it in stereo. So, I did add something to the movie but it was the same content with more spatial dimension to it. In a few places where we added a few additional sounds, I took them off of ‘The Raiders’ library. I thought some body hits were missing in one of the fights…so I took them off the same tape that I had back in 1981, so I wanted to make sure that it was still in the same fabric as the original, because I didn’t want it to stand out and be different. The additions made to the movie is because there is more space sound to put in it now, because of bigger playback systems…so, we added material from the original library to be more consistent.
SBC: How do you think the images of the past hold up to today’s standards and what can you tell us about the visual effects in the film?
DM: I don’t know if you want to compare the images of then and now, because I think the old ones hold up very well. Having been there and sort of lived through it there’s just something in the reality of it that serves the technical sort of problems we might have had in those days and gives it a very hand feel look to it. So, I think the images hold up extremely well and not that the newer ones aren’t good also, but the smell and feel of it, the material and all I think fit with the rest of the movie.
-[The effects] of course were very important because what George and Steven always wanted was to be able to experience a hyper adventure that you know this guy is wild and crazy enough to get into. So, the effects sort of supplement that and go beyond what was probably always going on in the James Bond movies that were pretty much diluted in reality and there were times where you can get out of reality and have a real life adventure; and that’s what we were aiming for in these films and the effects needed to come in when we did things that couldn’t be done for real.