Author: Nico Kazlauskas
Auteur Theory is the idea that film directors have total control and operate as the true writers of a movie more than the actual writers. It makes sense; directors are given the option to control lighting, cutting, editing, camera movements, lenses, colors, tone, mise en scene and the camera operation as a whole. Whether you believe in Auteur Theory or not, it is safe to say that directors control their films so the little compositional aspects and juxtapositions of scenes and their cutting match perfectly. The editing of a film acts like a political spectrum where Einsteinian Editing is when directors believe that the cutting of scenes should clash and cut often. Other directors may believe in maintaining action; keeping cutting to a minimum by using longer takes to preserve “the realism aspect” of a scene — Bazininan Editing. Despite where a director lives on the editing spectrum, the idea that a scene influences an audience through its composition is unmistakable and it is purposefully done by a director and their style. Believe it or not, a good example where editing comments on a movie’s theme is seen in the film, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked”.
Directed by Mike Mitchell in 2011, Chipwrecked acts as the third installment in the Alvin and the Chipmunks series. The overarching theme of the film is independence, as all the chipmunks have developed a belief that they are old enough and responsible enough to care for themselves despite the constant and consistent chaos that seems to follow them everywhere they go. The film’s theme is mentioned many times throughout the movie by the characters themselves, and of course, the editing itself, such as the quote, “Kids will rise to the occasion given trust.” Throughout the film, Mitchell edited the film in such a way that scenes are filled with Pudovkin editing. The cuts within the film are more noticeable and clash. Pudovkin editing is used to force a visual thematic message. This way of piecing together scenes reinforces the idea the movie was constructed in such a way as to clash with the theme of independence. The audience themselves are no longer able to watch the film independently, we are forced into a way of thinking and comprehending the scenes solely by the director’s editing.
In the film, towards the end, there is a scene where the chipmunk Jeanette is being lowered into a volcano cave and forced to steal treasure against her will. The scene lasts roughly 30 seconds, but its use of editing is done so that this 30-second bit represents the entire theme of the movie. The scene starts with Jeanette being lowered into the cave while tied up. Immediately we are shown her freedom and independence being stripped away as she is physically taken hostage. Her descent into the cave clashes with the theme as well. Earlier in this article, the quote, “Kids will rise to the occasion given trust,” was stated. Jeanette being physically lowered while her freedom is being taken away contrasts that idea perfectly. The shot is a medium-establishing shot where the only things present in the frame are Jeanette dressed in purple and the cave’s yellowish glow. The colors purple and yellow are extremely intentional since when looking at the color wheel, they are complementary opposites. This presents us with the idea that Jeanette doesn’t belong in the cave and is being forced into a situation she will never belong in.
Additionally, Jeanette begins to sing the song “SOS” by Rihanna. This song in the movie is different from the rest of the songs in the film—there are no instruments. The only sound paired with her singing is a faint echo, presenting the audience with loneliness. When we call out for help, we only can hear ourselves in response. As the lyric, “Someone help me,” is sung, the camera cuts into a closer shot of Jeanette, isolating her in the frame, which instills a feeling of fear and anxiety in the audience. We then cut to a top-down shot of the bottom of the cave. We see how far of a drop this is, adding more tension to the scene. We then are shown a long shot from the perspective of the bottom of the cave. The camera begins to tilt up, and we see again how high up and how far the drop is for Jeanette. Almost immediately, we cut away to Jeanette’s captor, naturally framed by a hole in the cave. The framing of her makes us feel trapped as the only natural light in the scene is blocked by the person holding Jeanette’s independence captive. We then cut to another close-up of Jeanette as she reaches the bottom of the cave, still singing acapella. Once she reaches the bottom and begins to ground herself just before the scene ends, we finally hear a bass line cello, then cut.
It’s this type of editing in a scene that can influence an audience’s thoughts subconsciously. A brief 30-second scene can represent the entire movie’s theme through editing, angles, music, sounds, colors and visuals. Whether you believe in or even notice Auteur Theory, the director’s editing style’s effect on a film is unmistakable. Simple editing to a brief 30-second scene can change context and an audience’s emotions drastically.