Sound in Scene – “Hanna” subway fight

As a movie, I felt Hanna didn’t live up to it’s potential and was ultimately an exercise in style over substance.  But man, what style!  If you haven’t scene it, it’s definitely worth watching.  For the fantastic sound design at least.  32 people worked on the sound for this film!  Including sound designers/re-recording mixers, Craig Berkey and Christopher Scarabosio.

One of the many great sound scenes in the movie is the “subway fight” scene.  It’s a single shot scene that tracks Eric Banna, playing ex-CIA operative and father of the protagonist Erik Heller, as he’s being followed down into the subway.  The clip starts off with a very organic sounding rhythm that seems to blend with the complex sonic environment.  The unconventional soundtrack by “The Chemical Brothers” frequently blurs the line between music and sound design and it’s not always clear which sounds were put there by the sound team and which sounds are part of the score.

As Erik (played by Eric) exits the bus station through a pair of sliding doors, the stereo field widens dramatically.  Immediately there is as flurry of movement.  A skateboarder skates past, a plane flies overhead with an exaggerated woosh, a car zooms by in the left speaker.  All this as the camera pans 180 degrees.  Now Erik is walking, we see graffiti eyes painted on the bus station walls and an advertisement for glasses, all symbolizing that Erik is being watched.  Sure enough, the camera pans past an agent behind the piller and we hear a wonderfully non-literal representation of the agents in-ear radio.  Another passby, wooshing sound as Erik turns to look behind him and the agent pretends to look at his watch.

If the theme up to this point has been movement, the theme now is danger.  We hear a police siren in the distance.  Followed by something that sounds like a siren or a machine of some sort turning on.  Then someone yelling, a crow calls out, another angry shout, a car drives by and honks loudly.  All sounds signifying danger in rapid succession as Erik steps onto the escalators down into the subway.

The escalators have a wonderfully rhythmic pulse to them which sets the tempo of the music.  Erik unbuttons his jacket, preparing for a fight, and a solid drum beat kicks in.  A high sound design flourish blends with the echoing roar of a skateboarder down in the nearly empty subway station.  His footsteps echo, drawing our attention to the emptiness of the space as the agents close in.  We hear a snippet of radio chatter before we pan around to see the lead agent saying “we got him” into his walkie talkie.  Then they fight.

I could, and will, write an entire post on punches.  I’m always interested to see how filmmakers handle punch sounds.  These punches are certainly exaggerated but not as over the top as they could be.  Around 2:02 there’s a moment where one of the agents is blocking our view of Erik’s hand so there’s a little reversed metallic “shing” sound that helps communicate to us what is happening.  As the last agent falls, the beat stops dramatically and all that is left is a high screeching sound which sounded like part of the music but now seems like it could be part of the environment.

And finally, listen to the funny little crackle the walkie talkie makes as Erik tosses it on the ground.  It’s completely unnecessary and kind of cartoony and silly if you listen to it over and over again, but it fits within the borderline dream state, almost hallucinogenic sonic palette of the film.


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One Response to Sound in Scene – “Hanna” subway fight

  1. Brendan says:

    Jeff Tolbert has an insightful blog post on the score to Hanna vs the other electronic film score that year – Tron. Spoiler: Hanna wins.

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