Watching a movie can be a great escape, and for the best movies we even wish that that escape could go on longer. This raises some questions: which movies deserve to be longer? And, when does long become too long?
To answer these questions, I spoke with Garen Daly, a movie critic and board member at Filmmaker's Collaborative, Ned Hinkle, the Creative Director at the Brattle Film Foundation, and Peter Keough, contributor to the Boston Globe.
The average big budget movie runs just under two hours. I wanted to know what happens when you push past the two-hour mark.
Should we add length to a movie to improve the quality of it?
Daly: "Stretching out a plot or extending a movie is speculative at best. What would be the purpose of say taking a 90 minute movie and adding 30 minutes to it? Consumer culture has extended into entertainment and by extension into art. Like fast food, it is served quickly and more often than not leaves you wanting more. The reason we want more is because we are not savoring the moment. It is the same cultural imperative that drives 'binge viewing'. It is consumption for consumption's sake."
Hinkle: "I like long movies as long as the length is justified by needing enough time to tell the story or set the appropriate mood. There are definitely films that add length because they've become bloated for one reason or another – sometimes in a misguided attempt to explain an incoherent script, sometimes just to make the movie look more important. Most of the time, a marker of whether a long movie actually needs to be long is whether we as audience members feel the length – although sometimes in 'artier' situations, that's totally the point."
What are some of your favorite long films?
Daly: "There are plenty of really good long movies, [some of which are:] 'Gone with the Wind,' 'The Sound Of Music,' 'Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Dr. Zhivago,' 'Great Escape' - those last three were in the late 50's, early 60's, and a way to make films more appealing was to make the longer, so they couldn't be on TV, but there are other reasons why films are slightly longer."
Hinkle: "In terms of taking the time to tell a story, Peter Jackson's 'Fellowship Of The Ring' and 'The Two Towers' are the first films that come immediately to mind as long but still exciting and engaging. There are, of course, other examples from film history. Some of the best films of all time are longer than two and a half hours: 'The Godfather,' 'Seven Samurai,' 'La Dolce Vita,' just about any Bollywood film ever made, and two of my personal favorites – 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly' and Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'– all fall well outside of the two hour mark. And then there are the films that are legendary for being over four hours long (and are still great movies): Bela Tarr's 'Sátántangó,' Abel Gance's 'The Wheel,' Andrei Konchalovsky's 'Siberiade,' Andy Warhol's eight-hour 'Empire,' and, of course, Jacques Rivette's astounding, twelve-hour long 'Out 1.'"
Is there any film that you think could benefit with extra time?
Hinkle: "It's hard to come up with a film that I think should be longer or shorter. I've definitely thought while watching a film, 'I wish this would go on forever' or, alternately, 'I wish this was over already!' But it's difficult to say whether making any particular film longer or shorter would improve it. There are so many different factors that go into making a film effective – and many of them are affected by the length. That being said, I do wish that 'Return of The King' had a few fewer endings!"
Keough: "Chris Marker's short 'La Jetee,' which was in a way made into a longer movie with '12 Monkeys.' Any of the hour long shorts in the late Krzysztof Kieslowski's 'Decalogue,' any Marx Brothers or WC Fields movie, [and] 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.'"
Daly: "The only time a film 'needs' to be longer is if the director's vision requires it. By vision, another building being blown up is not visionary. The history of cinema is replete with films that were 'edited' by producers to fit the business model. Orson Welles' 'The Magnificent Ambersons' is one of those cinematic tragedies."
What's the most common reason films extend their length today? According to Hinkle, explosions. Hinkle said directors are willing to go long "to add more footage of stuff blowing up — which I admit has its pleasures."
So the next time you're watching a movie like the new action flick 'Lone Ranger' and find yourself fidgeting, you may find Hinkle's words to be true.