I recently watched the full-length version of Spike Lee's new documentary, Bad 25, which at 131 minutes is definitely long for its type. But as a celebration of Michael Jackson's classic album and chronicle of its production, there's a lot to be covered. I thought there could be a snip here or there, but when I heard that most people were initially seeing the film on TV (and now online) with a running time of only 64 minutes, I thought this a travesty. Why watch an abridged version of a film? I feel the same way with many documentaries shown on PBS's Independent Lens that are chopped down to fit their schedule.
The interesting thing with those circumstances is they're home viewing situations, and the home is where we have a greater tolerance and/or accommodation for lengthy films. We have pause buttons, DVRs and other means with which to watch films around our busy schedules and impatient or tired eyes. According to a piece at Variety today, it's the theatrical cuts that need to be shorter. Writer Josh Dickey confesses to have experienced a sore butt due to Lincoln's 149-minute length and confirms with some social media experts that long running times tends to deter moviegoers hearing about the length via word of mouth.
Word of mouth got around about the article, as well, and there's been much discussion about it on Twitter and elsewhere, mostly to put it down. But while the issue isn't anything close to a news flash, there is some relevancy at the moment. As Dickey points out, along with Lincoln, a great number of this season's movies are longer than two hours, many longer than two and a half hours, including Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit and Django Unchained. Once again, Judd Apatow has a comedy with a greater running time than most, with This Is 40 hitting 134 minutes. It's already hard enough to fit all the end-of-year titles into your life with their openings all crammed into a short time period. For someone who might try to do marathons of awards contenders on, say, a Saturday in late December, the longer running times make it difficult to fit an adequate amount into a single outing.
Of course, as Dickey points out, the longer the movie, the more bang for your buck, which is something I've always appreciated. And on the other end, I tend to be pissed when I pay for a movie that's shorter than 90 minutes. Throw a short or two before the feature, like Disney does, at least. But then there are the times when the longer the movie, the more you're being taken for a ride, at least with home video releases. When the extended cuts of the Lord of the Rings films came out, for instance, I was pissed at the whole franchise. I felt like I'd seen in the theater the equivalent of what viewers saw of Bad 25 last week on TV. And you know Hollywood does the same thing with other films, cutting scenes just for time to make a more viable theatrical release and then throwing those scenes onto the DVD as a selling point.
For the most part, the obvious answer to this discussion is that films that hold your attention can be any length and films that aren't as captivating could do with a more concise edit. Skyfall, for example, is riveting throughout its 143 minutes while Anna Karenina, for me anyway, lost my attention a few times over the 130 minutes. And sometimes it's not about the film so much as the audience. I wasn't engaged by Cloud Atlas so it seemed to take forever, but other people are engulfed and thrilled all the way with its 172 minutes. And after reading Dickey's piece, I laughed when I saw an unrelated tweet from a peer complaining about the first two minutes of a seven-minute short film being boring.
To finish with an old saying, it's not the length that counts but what you do with it.
Do you tend to have an issue with movies that are longer than two hours? Should there be a general time limit on films?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter (fitting to the poll, by the way, the response section of this post is longer than usual and I refuse to edit it down):
Join the next discussion on Twitter by following Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic) and Movies.com (@Moviesdotcom).