Here’s Why Top Gun: Maverick Won the Oscar for Best Sound

Screenshot:  Vox via YouTube
Screenshot: Vox via YouTube

Top Gun: Maverick got people to come back to movie theaters last summer, so as a reward for making the film industry lots of money, the Academy decided to give it the Oscar for Best Sound. It was very nice of them, but it was also incredibly deserved. Tom Cruise must have been thrilled.

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Speaking of thrilled, that’s how I felt the first time I saw Maverick in theaters. The whole movie is wonderful, but what really captured my — and the voters’, as it turns out — imagination was the seven-minute Darkstar scene. Vox sat down with Al Nelson, the supervising sound producer for the movie, and broke down how the awe inspiring noise of the Darkstar, a most-likely fictitious plane built for the movie by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, came to be.


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Why Top Gun won the Oscar for sound

Top Gun: Maverick may use a ton of practical effects throughout its runtime, but that’s a hard thing to do with a plane like Darkstar that can canonically fly at Mach 10 and is also not real. Basically, Vox describes it as starting with a completely blank slate. Nelson breaks down just about everything the audience hears during that sequence from the jet turbines spooling up to the beeping noise the Mach indicator makes.

We even learn where sound designers got the jet stream noises that flowed around Darkstar when it was at Mach 10, and it’s not somewhere you’d expect. Nelson says they used the noise car tires make on the Roebling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River to create the sound. Movies are wild, man.

Nelson also took the time to break down how sound designers used what we heard to amplify our emotions during the scene. They took cues like quick sound edits from the first Top Gun to heighten the intensity of what was happening, and wow did it work. Oh, and just as a nice little bonus, the video describes how a scram jet works verses a regular jet turbine. Good looks, Vox. Good looks.

If you haven’t seen Top Gun: Maverick yet, I don’t know what your major malfunction is, but you really ought to. The movie is worth the Paramount Plus subscription for the sound alone.

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