Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Heath Holland On...Movie Lengths
It’s a rainy afternoon and you’re sitting on your couch. You have no place to be, nowhere to go, so you decide you want to watch a movie in the comfort of your own home. You have several options including Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime, or your extensive own collection. You narrow it down to a few choices, and then comes the true test: what’s the running time of each movie? You look at each one and find that none of them are under two hours. Hmmm...are you sure you want to watch this? Two hours and fifteen minutes is an awful long time for a romantic comedy. Two hours and forty-five minutes is even longer for a superhero flick. You could watch a minimum of three episodes of Game of Thrones in the same time. You could watch about seven episodes of Charles In Charge. Throwing you hands in the air, you give up and spend the rest of the afternoon watching reruns of Chopped.
Has this happened to you? I’ve certainly been there, and I want to figure out why. Is my patience shrinking? Are movies getting longer? And how much of a factor is a film’s length for you? I’m not necessarily talking about in the theater, when you’re making an evening or an afternoon of something. I’m talking more about when you’re home and you have a few hours free before you have to be anywhere or do anything. Does it factor in to your decision?
I have a little section on my shelf for the new arrivals -- things I’ve picked up recently that haven’t been filed with the rest of the collection. For instance, The Hobbit is currently in that area because it just recently came out and I’m still going over all the special features. It’s not ready to be filed yet. This area on my shelf is growing larger and larger, because the movies that populate it aren’t moving to their permanent homes with the haste I’d prefer. Upon further exploration, I’ve discovered that it’s because almost all of the movies, though they encompass many different genres, are in the “two hours-plus” category. Science tells me that my movies over two hours aren’t getting watched as much as those that are under that. There are graphs and charts to explain this, but I’ll spare you.
I freely admit it’s mostly psychological. The difference between a movie with a run time of 108 minutes and a movie that’s 126 minutes is not really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. That’s a trip to the kitchen for a snack and then a trip to the bathroom (I eat a lot of fiber). But given the choice, I’m usually going to take the shorter movie unless I’m feeling particularly saucy, or am in a devil-may-care, damn the torpedoes mood. Bring on the director’s cut of Watchmen, I say as I eat an entire cake while naked in the bathtub (this is most Saturday nights).
When I was younger this was NOT an issue. The most recent Weekend Weigh-in asked what movie we’d seen more than any others. For me, that honor goes (obviously) to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. When that movie was released on home video, I’d watch it sometimes back to back, and have seen it dozens and dozens and dozens of times. That film is 143 minutes long. I don’t know where I found the time, what with the thriving adolescent social life I was (not) leading. I also watched my tapes of Batman and Hook so much that they started to wear out. Both of those are over two hours.
So it’s easy to boil it down and say that it’s because I now have a demanding job, a family, a lot of obligations (see last week’s column) but none of those things are the real reason. They’re just excuses. There are lots of times where I’ll end up with several free hours and THINK about pulling Heat off the shelf, but opt for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang instead. Why? The runtime, man! And I’d be lying to you if I said that the reasons I love the direct-to-DVD action movies that I do (Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren) as well as classic sci-fi and horror movies have nothing to do with their length.
I admire a movie that has the balls to get in, get out and commit to telling a story in less than two hours. If you can do it in less than 90, I might have your baby. Tangent: I think there’s A LOT of movies coming out that could use some tighter editing. Part of it is the director, whose job it is to realize when his or her movie is becoming bloated and overlong. If I am hanging on every word of a movie, I’m fine with a run time of two hours or more. But when I feel like there are long, meandering plot lines that don’t add to the story and serve only to pad it out, I’m going to call you out on it. Though I love Kevin Costner, he’s a main offender every time he directs a movie. They always push three hours. I go to The Hobbit expecting an epic story and realizing it’s going to take an investment of my time. I don’t go into a Judd Apatow movie with the same allowances. Was there any reason that The Dark Knight Rises needed to be almost three hours long? And as much as I loved Skyfall in the theater, watching it at home felt like an all day hike. I had to stop to hydrate. I brought granola.
Sometimes I like a movie, but it goes on so long that it wears me down and I lose enthusiasm. Honestly, Skyfall falls into this category. I love the film. I love the storyline, I love Danny Craig (we’re pals) as Bond, I love the set pieces. I love Javier Bardem as the villain. But I don’t love that it takes the movie about 45 minutes to end. I’m done with Skyfall before Skyfall is done with me, and that’s a BAD thing, because in the future when I think about revisiting it, I’ll remember that it’s the second longest Bond film ever, and I’ll think twice. In that time, I can watch an old horror movie AND an old kung fu movie.
So is this a new phenomenon? No. There have always been really long movies. In fact, some of the movies from the classic era of cinema make today’s movies look like Pixar Shorts. So why have I started to pay more attention to it? Remember, it’s not a problem in the theater -- it’s at home, when I’m in more control and can customize the experience to better suit my tastes. Full disclosure: sometimes I split long movies into two sessions, and sometimes those sessions are not even on the same day. WHAT HAVE I BECOME?!
What about children’s movies, and those of us with kids? A few nights ago, my lovely and very intelligent wife Bree pointed out to me that almost all of the classic Disney animated films (made when the attention spans of children were longer) are very short. Modern animated films, particularly Pixar movies, are a lot longer. Pinocchio is 88 minutes. Snow White is 83 minutes. Bambi is only 70. Dumbo is the shortest of them all at 64 minutes. And the attention spans of kids are a lot shorter than they used to be, since children can bury their face in a screen anywhere they go and can obtain information immediately with the internet (see JB’s definition about a series of tubes). Yet in spite of that, movies like Cars, Cars 2, Ratatouille and Wreck It Ralph are all pushing two hours.
But for a good movie, length really doesn’t matter, does it? When you’re REALLY into a movie, or the experience of watching a movie with no outside distractions, the run time seldom becomes a factor. If you are sitting in the cinema and you’re checking your watch, that’s most likely the film’s fault. A good movie should capture your attention. You should lose yourself to the world that’s being shown to you. That DEFINITELY happens sometimes, when a movie at the theater just doesn’t grab you and you’re waiting for it to end so you can bust out of the doors like a prisoner granted parole. The problem I’m talking about always occurs at home, when you aren’t as immersed in the experience as you would be at the theater.
It’s a war I’m constantly fighting with myself...and frequently losing. I just don’t watch that many long movies at home. They get watched once, in the theater, and after that only rarely. Usually years will pass. And piggybacking off of last week’s column about great movies we never need to see again, I think length has kept me away from rewatching a lot of movies that I really enjoyed the first time. I really enjoy watching pulpier movies these days, and tend to stay away from bloated award fodder; I think a HUGE reason for that is that they are almost always shorter. I’m sure most of the awards movies are wonderful, and I am doing myself a disservice by not seeing them, but those types of films are usually long and ploddingly paced. It’s simple economy of time. The shorter the movie, the more movies I can watch in a given period of time. What really sucks is when you pick an 80-minute movie that feels like three hours, but that’s a topic for another column.
So can anyone relate to what I’m talking about? Do you guys notice any trends in the lengths of the movies you watch at home? And can a shorter running time make a mediocre movie better? If a movie is about how it ends (it is), then is how long it runs just as important as the ending?