Opinion: Editing, Pacing, and the Headaches Movies Give Me (Sometimes)

By Quentin Basnaw

My most recent review was for Hacksaw Ridge, a movie I enjoyed. However, my biggest problem with that movie (and to an extent, a plethora of movies released today) is how some scenes are edited, and how the overall pacing of the movie is just… lackluster, to say the least. For example, the first 20 to 30 minutes of the movie (before our hero gets to Army Boot Camp) has fast cutting between different scenes in the character’s life. Now, a movie usually does this to show you the important parts in a character’s life, but how Hacksaw Ridge handles the scenes is a little “jumpy.”

We go to Desmond (our hero) as a kid, then his dad is talking to gravestones, then Desmond is a kid fighting his brother, then Desmond is suddenly a man and is immediately thrown into a situation where he chooses to save someone’s life. The effect of being bombarded with information only increases because every one of these scenes is, well, over-the-top at times. The pacing is just off at the beginning of it. The other problem I have with these scenes is, of course, how they’re edited. When Hugo Weaving gives a powerful performance talking to the gravestones, the filmmakers can’t do one long, nice, emotional take. No, they have to jump around because they seem to think the audience doesn’t have more than a three second attention span. In my opinion, it feels like modern movies do this in every scene.

The pacing of movies seems to be the most thoroughly lacking feature, I find. A story is supposed to show only the most important moments in the lives of its characters. Yet, some movies either drag things out like a snail were pulling the film along through molasses, or the movie feels like it’s over in five seconds. The happy medium of “perfect pacing” seems to be nonexistent. A few good examples of movies that pull off the former option often are Marvel movies. Off the top of my head, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Ant-Man all handle the beginning of their stories in a patient, “here’s this. . .” way, but then later say “BUT WE ONLY WANT TO SHOW YOU THIS!” by focusing on the explosions and fun instead. This leaves the buildup phase in the final product feeling choppy.

On DC’s end, Suicide Squad is a movie with blatant editing blunders and nonexistent pacing. One second, we’re in prison. Then, we’re in an upscale building in the city. No, we’re in the prison. No, we’re in a technology building. No, we’re IN PRISON! And so on. It just seems to be a cycle that keeps the audience from taking in any interesting sets or designs or cinematography because the movie just wants to jump between so many different things at once.

To rectify all this, I think movies simply need to have slower scenes that aren’t always cutting every couple seconds. I don’t know how else to say it. I wish, when movies are going slowly, their scenes reflect this. Instead, I feel as if those scenes are trying to go as quickly as action scenes. If there’s good dialogue and story, you should be able to have long takes that don’t require cutting every couple of seconds.