The long haul

Posted by · 12:56 pm · July 27th, 2009

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceScreenDaily editor Mike Goodridge raises a topic that has provoked more than a few grumbles this season: the inordinate length of some of Hollywood’s biggest summer releases.

I’m not someone who automatically whines whenever a film pushes the 150-minute mark. Some films warrant that heft, and it’s not always directly related to the scale of the plot — more ambient pieces can need time and space to breathe and explore their environments. Many felt that “Public Enemies” hadn’t enough narrative to fill 140 minutes, which I can understand — though for me, the languidness felt right for a film that was principally an exercise in mood and texture.

I don’t entirely subscribe to Roger Ebert’s overly reductive stance that “no good film is too long, and no bad film is short enough” — there is plenty of “good” work that could enter “great” territory via some judicious pruning, after all — but the bottom line is that if I’m engaged by a film, I’m not checking my watch. (In any case, as a screenwriter, overlength is a factor I’m sympathetic to: I know the pain of cutting beloved scenes.)

But I do share Goodridge’s exasperation over certain bloated blockbusters that don’t necessarily merit the indulgence, beginning with the latest Harry Potter chapter:

Am I alone in getting a little bored at the episodic nature of Harry’s battle to bring down Voldemort, this time peppered with long stretches of teenage romance? The Potter films are sumptuous and beautifully produced but so slavishly faithful to their source that their talented directors have been unable to exercise the cinematic license that the film medium requires.

As for Transformers 2, I confess to a nap during that one, though the loss of 20 minutes in the middle didn’t seem to affect my understanding of the plot. Like the final Pirates movie, At World’s End, the aim seems not to tell a tight and gripping story but to showcase as much CGI work as possible.

The length of the Potter films (which average exactly 150 minutes) has been one of my reservations about the series from the start, but I at least understand that the plotty novels lend themselves for such woolliness. But how on earth can one justify the same running time for “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which is both light on story and samey in atmospherics?

Goodridge goes on to criticize Judd Apatow’s “Funny People,” the 146-minute running time of which has been a bone of contention in a number of the early reviews. He’s all the more annoyed in this instance because he rather likes the film, deeming it potentially the director’s best work, but ultimately “undisciplined and indulgent.”

Unlike the blockbusters, however, the length of Apatow’s opus points to a different industry malaise: the curious perception that “long” equals “serious,” as if gravitas can somehow be added by the minute. It’s certainly a formula the Academy is fond of: this year’s Best Picture nominees averaged 132 minutes in length, four minutes less than the average length of winners across the past decade.

The cynical might argue the length of Apatow’s film amounts to a “take me seriously” bid for Academy attention. (I wouldn’t necessarily agree: the more lowbrow “Knocked Up” was still decidedly overlong, by my count.) But even if that were the case, what the hell is Michael Bay’s excuse?

→ 18 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

18 responses so far

  • 1 7-27-2009 at 1:23 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    Although the HP film is long it’s not slavishly close to the book… that’s actually what most of the people who don’t like it say about it. Transformers though… no excuse for that.

  • 2 7-27-2009 at 1:46 pm

    red_wine said...

    I would easily cut 45 mins-1 hour from Half Blood Prince. The entire middle stretch was pointless romantic comedy. Even though I would hardly ever watch it again, at 154 minutes, the possibility is non-existent.

    And speed and thrill is something blockbusters seem to have forgotten. They are extremely boring these days. I mean they are inherently boring due to their content but its not even exciting to watch them these days. Star Trek was an exception, it felt fast and quick for the most part.

  • 3 7-27-2009 at 1:52 pm

    Georgie said...

    If the HP movies were really slavishly faithful the books, most of America [and the world] would not criticize them. Most people [read: not film critics] complain about their deviations from the source material than anything else.

    Then again, I don’t really mind long movies. Movie tickets are getting so expensive that they should be longer [but not three hours]. I pee before I get into the theater and have a snack prepared. It’s not incredibly complex. And I make sure I’m well aware if a movie is going to be close to three hours.

  • 4 7-27-2009 at 1:59 pm

    limeymcfrog said...

    Cutting out the middle of HBP would have rendered the series incomprehensible since the relationships it develops are of massive importance in the last book (and will be so in the last 2 films). The presence of romantic complications does not automatically render something a romantic comedy.

  • 5 7-27-2009 at 2:00 pm

    James D. said...

    It is strange to see the blockbusters being so long. One would think that they would like to keep them at around 90 minutes in order to get more showings out of each theater. In this instance, I think that the sheer number of screens in theaters is helping this. Who cares how long Potter or Transformers 2 are if you can put them on three or more screens on opening week? I guess the length is supposed to lead to a status of being an “epic” film, although with the ADD culture today who needs over two hours of robots and magicians?

  • 6 7-27-2009 at 2:51 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    My ideal film length is 75 minutes.

  • 7 7-27-2009 at 2:56 pm

    John said...

    It varies with me.

    There are some movie that are way too long at an hour and 25 minutes.

    There are some that are 2 hours that I wish had 10-15 minutes more of narrative.

    3 hours doesn’t bother me if the movie is GREAT.

    I think 2 hours is a good avg. length of films.

    It all depends. Also, if a movie is on tv, it’s usually broken up by 45 min-hour of commercials anyway. a 2 hour movie becomes 3, etc..

  • 8 7-27-2009 at 2:57 pm

    John said...

    Furthermore, length usually doesn’t bother me as I tend to watch movies over the course of a day or maybe 2 days if I’m busy; need to go and come back to it, etc..

  • 9 7-27-2009 at 3:24 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Yeah I’m usually in for more-is-better but it’s gotta serve a point. Potter was never really boring but nothing really felt connected to me either.
    Transformers was just plain stupid at such length, hell at 90-100 minutes those films might actually be some fun. Like Wolverine, which simply has a great runningtime so it doesn’t irritate all too much.

  • 10 7-27-2009 at 3:42 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    few good films that could have used cutting were king kong, but i wont complain about the lengths of lord of the rings movie, shawshank redemption or benjamin button, all movies that the length people complain about, but no one, NO ONE, can do what Aronofsky does in such little time

  • 11 7-27-2009 at 3:59 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    I find this funny, because back in the 1980’s, James Cameron had his films trimmed down by Fox because they thought they were too long and American audiences wouldn’t sit through them. Aliens was originally as long as this last Transformers, but Fox took 17 minutes out of the film for audiences (we luckily have the Director’s Cut now). They did the same with The Abyss, which was originally almost 3 hours, and they cut it ou to just over 2 (getting rid of some of the most amazing scenes in the film). That changed when Dances with Wolves became a hit, but the difference here is that James Cameron knows how to make a long film work. I often call Titanic “the shortest three hours of my life”. It moves at such an amazing pace that you hardly feel the length. And Aliens and The Abyss are amazing movies in those running times.

    I just thought I’d point that out. It’s funny how blockbusters are longer these days, but back in the 1980’s, they would trim down films that were just about the same length just because they were deemed too long. Times have changed, I guess, but if you have a long running time, at least make sure you have enough of a story.

  • 12 7-27-2009 at 6:16 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Most 3 hour + movies actually don’t feel nearly as long as they are. It’s quite interesting really.

  • 13 7-27-2009 at 8:02 pm

    Jim said...

    I’m glad you brought this up. I’m looking forward to Funny People, but my main concern is the length of the film actually. I don’t really mind long films, but at times it just feels unneccessary and scenes could definitely be edited down. I mean Transformers..come on…..I mean I don’t think editing the sequel down to 90 minutes would have made a good film, but it would have been a step in the right direction. I mean its based off 80s cartoons and toys, what is up with the epic length with a story that doesn’t make any coherent sense. WTF!

    Same problem I had with Speed Racer, though that wasn’t too ridiculously long for a film, but 130 minutes for a kids movie in my opinion, was too much.

  • 14 7-27-2009 at 11:18 pm

    Glenn said...

    Yeah, a crummy 2hr movie can feel much longer than a good 3hr one, that’s for sure.

    In regards to Harry Potter – I thought the “romantic comedy” stuff was actually some of the better done moments. However, if they didn’t include they would be criticised for being too much action and too focused on male audience members.

    “Funny People” does seem far too long, but so have all of Apatow’s movies tbh. I distinctly remember criticisms over the length of “Knocked Up” and the DVD director’s cut of “40-Year-Old Virgin”. Was it Kevin Smith that said there’s no excuse for a comedy to be over 100minutes? Maybe. But I tend to think 100 for a comedy is a good length.

    “My ideal film length is 75 minutes”

    you’re joking right? That’s barely even the minimum running length requirement for the animated feature category!

  • 15 7-28-2009 at 4:01 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    75 = stop motion cinema only.

  • 16 7-28-2009 at 9:06 am

    PJ said...

    I think the Potter films have to finely tread the balance between being faithful to the books (and pleasing its huge fan base), and being good cinematic works on their own right. Most fans would be perfectly happy to watch seven hour long productions that detailed every plot point, simply because immersion in the world of magic and Hogwarts was one of the main points of appeal of the books; the actions-oriented parts are rather small compared to the time spent on character development and it’s difficult to accurately translate that, or strike a balance, with the medium of film. Given this, I think the Potter films do a fairly good job. They’re certainly preferable to Transformers which seemed to think any minute spent without a mindless explosion, close-up of a hot chick and/or a racist slur was a wasted one.

  • 17 7-28-2009 at 12:51 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Ebert’s often-sited quote – is concerning one’s enjoyment of a good movie – always wanting more. Bad movies no matter how brief the running time often feel like an unbearable waste of your time.

    Ebert also is fully aware of the importance of editing on a film to improve it – read his review of the released version of “The Brown Bunny”.

  • 18 8-03-2009 at 6:47 pm

    Mike said...

    I agree with PJ in saying that if a Potter film was 7 hours and it was faithfully and well done, Potter fans would sit through it. I know I would. But any casual moviegoer who was not a fan would certainly not.