Monday, January 06, 2014
Are movies too long?
As you may have guessed, another rant coming up.
Have you ever noticed that sitting through a 2 ½ hour movie is excruciating yet you can binge-watch a television series and burn through eight hours at a time?
A movie should be as long as it takes to best tell its story. Period.
And most stories don’t require 2 ½ hours.
Many many times a screenwriter is faced with this: He has a great beginning. That’s fifteen minutes. And he has a boffo ending. That’s another fifteen minutes. But now he has to fill an hour or two in the middle. And trust me, a lot of it is “fill.” Subplots are concocted to kill time. Scenes are elongated. Scenes are repeated. Strangers in restaurants spontaneously sing. We’re treated to endless shots of a car driving through fields. When the car starts running low on fuel, we watch the driver pull into a service station, get out, pump gas, and walk five yards to the cashier, pay for the gas, then duck into the convenience store, buy a hot dog, wait for it to come out of the microwave, eat it, walk back to the car, start the engine, and drive off. More beauty shots of fields to follow. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.
Quite simply: many filmmakers have become over indulgent. Once they get a few hits under their belts they’re given more creative leeway and their movies begin to creep and creep in length. They start believing longer means more important. More epic. Is ANCHORMAN 2 an epic? Its running time is two hours.
Comedies should never be more than 1:45 and even that’s too long. 1:30 is perfect. If you have the funniest movie in the world, audiences will get tired after laughing for ninety minutes.
Meanwhile, there is some great storytelling going on in television these days. All in hour-long bytes. Unlike movies, where you wish they were shorter, with some TV series you get to the end of thirteen hours and are bummed that it’s over. Why? Because the STORY sweeps you along. And I’m not even saying it has to be fast paced. MAD MEN is not exactly a thrill-a-minute.
But filmmakers beware: your work is not just being judged against fellow indulgent filmmakers anymore. It’s now being judged against BREAKING BAD and HOUSE OF CARDS and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. Do you really really really need that scene of a guy pumping gas?
For the next three days I will review possible Oscar films. Two you should rush to see and one you can skip. Coincidentally, the one I liked the best is also the shortest of the three. See you tomorrow.