Sound design is something you normally don’t think that much about since the visuals of a movie take up a lot of attention. Plus, if the sound designer is doing their job then you won’t ever know that they were a part of the film to begin with. You’re more likely to think that the sounds you hear in the film are something that occurs naturally, until you hear a different sound for the same action in a different film. Fight Club is a perfect example of what it means to get the sound right in the film so that people are able to focus solely on the visuals and let the sound effects take care of themselves.
If you’ve ever punched someone or been punched in turn you know that it hurts, a LOT. Also you should know that it doesn’t make a lot of noise unless something happens to break or you manage to do some serious damage. Fight Club is a very violent movie as most people know by now, and the punches and other sound effects were all worked on in an attempt to make the actions sound as real as possible. One thing about punching a person is that the sound isn’t that audible unless there’s a microphone right next to the other person’s fist as it connects. Even the slightest amount of background noise can eliminate the sound of a punch.
That’s where the sound designer comes in. It’s their job to determine just what kind of materials are needed to replicate the sound of a particular action. In Fight Club they decided to use chicken carcasses at first, punching them to simulate the sound of a fist punching flesh. Unfortunately that wasn’t quite good enough, so they added walnuts for a distinctive crunching noise, and that hit the spot perfectly. It was just the right balance of meat being pounded and the crackling of bone as it meets its target.
If you listen to fight scenes in other movies it’s kind of a packing, snapping sound that doesn’t fit in with what really happens during a scrap. You can hear this effect in Die Hard and any Indiana Jones movie when the characters get into a fist fight. It sounds highly unnatural and kind of takes away from the scene to be honest. In Fight Club however the visuals are matched just about perfectly with the audio in a manner that makes it somewhat controversial since the realism is so strong. It also helped to make the movie popular however since it was kept to a level that people could relate with and in many ways enjoy.
Well done audio design in a film helps to enhance and bolster the movie, but it doesn’t try to take over. The moment that people are paying too much attention to the audio is when it’s obvious that the designer went just a little overboard with their effects. In Fight Club the movie was allowed to develop as it should have been while the sound effects guided it along the way.