The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? 166 minutes.
Casablanca? 102 minutes.
Watchmen? 163 minutes.
Batman (1989)? 126 minutes
Are contemporary motion pictures really endurance tests? Does it really take three hours to tell these stories?
I love the movies. After making them, teaching them, studying them, I still love them. I even love the lab smell — My dad was a film chemist. But what’s the deal with movies approaching the running time of the Ring Cycle?
The movie business is like the book business. A few bestselling authors — Grisham, Kranz, Dickey — support the publishing industry. In movies, it’s the big, s — Bond, Bourne, LOTR, Harry Potter. Many of these movies lend themselves to spectacle. Bigger, louder, faster, more complex. If they don’t entertain you, they pimp slap you into submission. And it’s not just the movies themselves but the viral campaigns, marketing, brand integration and licensing.
The stakes for these films are sky high. They’re serving a whole bunch of masters and agendas. So they get longer and longer and longer. I think I counted three distinct endings in the final LOTR. I enjoyed much of Benjamin Button but by the end, I thought I’d gone through basic training.
Whatever happened to economy of expression? A taut, lean story line?
Fewer movies are being made. Do longer movies reflect a desperation from thinking you’ll never get another shot? Or at least not one very soon?
Audiences are hit with so many/too many images, violence, and sex. Like addicts, they’re burned out. The same hit doesn’t give the same pleasure. They need more of everything to feel anything at all. Can this brain numbing have an upside? There’s nothing wrong with dessert but you can’t eat it all the time.
If moviegoers get hooked on tentpoles, will they have the patience for the small indies? I wonder. I’m dismayed by the number of folks that say that they don’t want to think, they just want to be entertained. They get so hooked into this style, they sometimes can’t tolerate anything different. This does not bode well. Globalization means that we have to be more open.
The afterlife of these lengthy movies is also troubling. The millions spent on Catwoman and Daredevil are gone forever. I thought one of the pleasures of art was revisiting a work and learning something new into infinity. Oh? Okay, no.
The bigger issue is that when operas went this route, they stopped speaking powerfully to the culture. I’d hate to see movies marginalized in the same way. I think we need them and I want them.
Let’s try going lean. Dare I say, leaving the audience wanting more?