Film School: “Terrible” Editing in ‘Kong: Skull Island’ (2017)

Film School: "Terrible" Editing in 'Kong: Skull Island' (2017)

The effect is exhausting – and for what?

Director Jon Vogt-Roberts‘s Kong: Skull Island (2017) is fun – not great, not bad, but fun. There are some stunning visuals, with smokey mono- and duochromatic set pieces that elevate some weak characterisation and choppy storytelling. “Choppy” is the operative word here: while the art direction, sets and creatures evidence an attention to design, the shots themselves do not.

John Smith may let the editing speak for itself, but he has the final word (or, more accurately, title) in his selected extract from the film:

One could argue that the frenetic editing pace of Kong: Skull Island is not only prompted by a desire to create movement or momentum (the film itself is quite brisk, and you get your first monster shot in the first scene), but it’s also necessitated by the piecemeal coverage. Scenes featuring upwards of seven performers consist mostly of single- and two-shots. It’s possible (and therefore likely) different actors sharing a scene were shot on entirely different days. The result is an oddly disjointed feeling within scenes, and suggests the director’s strengths lie more in creating iconic creature visuals than in designing shots that cover conversations between multiple humans.

Let’s Compare To How Others Do It

It’s a brief but tense exchange: in this scene from Get Out (2017), director Jordan Peele and editor Gregory Plotkin focus on the glances, the reactions, the microaggressions, just long enough but also strategically enough to convey all the potential for this moment to escalate:

In the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, director Quentin Tarantino‘s camera tracks around the scene, punching in and out of single- and two-shots, which combine to give us a sense not only that everyone is actually there, but how everyone is (or is not) connected (language warning):

How about not cutting at all? Martin Scorsese‘s famous sequence shots pull us into the world of his characters (starts at 0:24):

These shots take planning of course, but above all a particular kind of design that can often determine (or limit) the options available in editing. This places the real work of storytelling on the editing – which is not better or worse, but is an approach that can lead to the kind of disconcerted backlash often felt, if not always articulated, in the video essay above. No single shot feels special; each feels generic, without meaning or message, and implies an abundance of coverage production stage. This, in turn, suggests a lack of vision (or confidence) on the part of the director, at both the pre- and post-production stages, in the nuance or importance of interactions between humans in his story of King Kong.

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