Film length – can we talk?

Can we talk about film length?

Films in an attempt to give people their money’s worth keep getting longer and longer. With the sheer amount of content being made, it’s hard to invest in media that demands more of your time.

Film length used to be great.

I used to love three-hour films, you would settle down and take it in. There was a sense of occasion. Not every film was three hours long. When one came along stretching length while squeezing your bladder, you knew it was worth your attention.

What I’m saying is that I do enjoy a long film. Especially when it has substance. I loved going to see all the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a cinema. It was unique and even better, you knew there was only going to be three of them. There was an end in sight. If you wanted more, there were the extended editions. You went in, it was a big story, but they managed to condense it down to nine hours, and you were done.

A significant bit of film history, now part of the past.

At least, I thought.

Now everything is three hours

I don’t blame Peter Jackson exactly, but it feels like he has cast a long shadow over the film industry. Don’t get me wrong I still have a soft spot for Lord of the Rings. I’ll stick them on every Christmas and enjoy the nostalgia.

Have you not noticed that ever since films, in general, have been getting longer and longer?

Film length appears to be expanding further and further.

Even Jackson’s films felt influenced by his own practices. A three hour telling of King Kong? Pass. What about the Lovely Bones? No thanks.

The first film I noticed that was unnecessarily long was the first Pirates of the Carribean film. I was enjoying it up to a point, and then, it kept on going. It was about some pirates, did it have to be that long?

Everything now feels like a three-hour epic.

In fact, the word epic has lost all meaning. You have three-hour horrors, three-hour comedies. Now you have three hour hang out films and three-hour dramas. Name a genre, and there’s a contemporary film that exists in three hours. There are so many three hour films now it’s a genre unto itself.

More common means less unique.

You remember when the Star Wars films used to be released every three years. There was a sense of specialness to the releases. Now Disney has the rights. Pumping a Star Wars out every year has lead to audiences souring on the franchise. In a rush to make as much money in as short a space of time it means less quality control. Even with a three-year window, success was not a guarantee.

The same rationale applies to film length. The film is in an identity crisis. Streaming is causing difficulty. Streaming services provide endless content, how can a single film hope to compete? For the price of a cinema ticket, you could have two months worth of access to the streaming service.

What I’m trying to say is how do you justify ticket prices? How do you quantify the “worth” of a film?

From behaviour, the answer appears to be “Longer equals better”.

I disagree with this.

Longer means I will have a hard time recommending the film to others. I will also have a hard time revisiting certain films. Take the likes of Midsommar, I liked it, will I ever rewatch the movie? In all likelihood no. If it was an hour and thirty, more likely. Did I like Under Silver Lake? I did. Will I watch it again? No. Do I recommend it to you? No.

It certainly feels like now more than ever the suits have no idea what they’re doing.

Now here’s my bias. I’m an 80’s child. Born in the latter half of the decade. This is probably my own confirmation bias but hear me out. The ’80s feels like a time of producer as director. Don Simpson, Joel Silver and even Ivan Reitman. These were businessmen with belief in themselves as artists. They were Nick Furys. Bringing in the right technicians make it under two hours so you could fit more shows in per day.

Now we live in the shadow of the test screening. Power was handed over to people who were out in public with a few hours to spare. Can you begin to imagine what type of person that might be?

Producers are so not clued in they feel embarrassed to rein in the director. It shows when it comes to films like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, “Who am I to tell Tarantino his script is baggy?”. They have defied the director as auteur. Their faith misplaced has caused audiences to vanish.

Can we trim the fat?

Now, I’m not saying things have to have a uniform length of two hours and under. Not all films have to be in the golden mean. What I’m saying is, if you’re a filmmaker, if you’re a screenwriter is every single scene necessary. Is there no way that you can combine them and whittle it down.

Society, in general, has become lazy. Our warehouses are bigger, should we not fill them?

Remember the first phones? When it was 10p, a message and memory was limited? You had to actually go back and make Sophie’s Choice over which ones you kept and which ones were deleted?

Now how many photos are in your camera roll?

Streaming services have the same attitude. Look at Netflix and Amazon Prime. There’s a library to fill and damn the quality.

You try something new, it’s ten episodes, and the story isn’t fully developed, so much padding. The show starts properly around episode four, but you’ll never know. By that time you’re rewatching American Office.

What I’m saying is excess and “value for money” hurts us all.

Can we all vow to cut down the waste?

Conclusion: Cut down film length

Look now maybe this is an example of old man yells at cloud. It could be that things are the right length and I’m losing touch with what’s cool. It feels like as our entertainment becomes more about making as much money off a brand. There is this need to not only beat a dead horse but to resuscitate it first before getting stuck into it. Even non-franchise films have this issue. Everything has to be dragged out as much as possible. The book can’t be adapted, it needs split into two.

Film length needs to be brought down.

Can things not just end?

Have a great day, and we’ll talk again soon,

Kieran

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