Long films, my poor bottom, and the running time code

I’m 40 in a few weeks, so I guess that makes me middle-aged, and with that comes the added weight of middle-age spread, thus increasing the pressure on my poor derriere when I have to sit through overlong movies.

I seem to have endured more of these in the last 12 months than in any other year, and the main offenders are:

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN – 136 minutes: Would have been a fine 110 minute movie, but you had to bog it down with all sorts of sequel bait, didn’t you?!

THE HUNGER GAMES – 142 minutes: My kids loved it, but then they don’t have to get up at 5 AM for a pee every day.

SKYFALL – 143 minutes: Actually a cracking film, and the Bond films have a habit of breaking the 2hr mark with their over-complex plotting – there’s a list of their running times here – but next time, let’s knock it back to 120 minutes, eh? As we’ve already established, my bladder isn’t what it used to be.

THE AVENGERS – 143 minutes: So, over 12 hours of backstory movies wasn’t enough? To be fair, in the UK this was called AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, so we were forewarned that there would be some assembly. It’s a bit like calling another movie THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN HAVE TO GATHER BEFORE ANYTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS (incidentally THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is arguably the better film and runs for 127 minutes).

THE MASTER – 144 minutes: Absolutely spellbinding performances lost in a meandering collections of vignettes that eventually get bored with themselves and end up as celluloid rattling in the projector.

DARK KNIGHT RISES – 165 minutes: That’s nearly three bloody hours! About a bloke who dresses up as a bat! Don’t get me wrong, I love these films, but let’s not forget that this is about a comic book character. Do we really need all those scenes about the Wayne Company Board and shareholders and the scenes with the mayor that think they’re straight out of The Wire? We have to wait 45 minutes before we even see any Bat action. You wouldn’t get away with that in a comic book.

DJANGO UNCHAINED – 165 MINUTES: Spaghetti Westerns have a long tradition of being too long, but bullfighting and fox hunting are also painful, drawn-out exercises in ‘tradition’, so let’s bring the torture to an end now.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY – 169 MINUTES: Crikey, where do I start with this one? There’s an entire musical scene about washing up. If they could cut Tom Bombadil from THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, surely they could have started by cutting the washing up shanty and going on from there?

I was going to add PROMETHEUS to this list, but it only runs for 124 minutes. I guess it just felt longer (ooh, you bitch, Mark!).

I recently watched LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which, in its longest version, runs for 227 minutes. It’s an utterly compelling film, wrapped around one of the best film performances of the 20th century, so it earns its running time, and you know what…? They have to decency to provide an interval! You even get it on the Blu-Ray: music plays over a dark screen for a few minutes. Back in the day, cinemagoers would buy choc ices from vendors in the aisles…

The mind plays tricks, but in my memory I'm sure they all looked like Kelly Brook.
The mind plays tricks, but in my memory I’m sure they all looked like Kelly Brook.

… I checked my email and did a few stretching exercises.

As this rant has gone on long enough, I think it’s only fair that I provide you, fair reader, with an interval of your own. She here’s the Overture from LAWRENCE (yes, the film is so long it has it’s own overture). Go stretch your legs for 4 minutes 38 seconds…

Better…? Welcome back.

So, how about reviewing the running times for the worst offending genres from now on? A RUNNING TIME CODE that all film makers should adhere to:

HISTORICAL EPICS: Okay, these should maybe run to 3 hours, as they have to cover a lot of ground. You have the childhood incident/murder/beheading that inspires the historical character to change the world, scenes of bearded men talking about honour and duty, lashings of battle scenes, and a romance that historians will insist never actually happened.

SCI-FI ADVENTURE/COMIC BOOK MOVIES: 110 minutes. Two hours tops! These are not THE SORROW AND THE PITY, these are fluff. Enjoyable fluff, yes. The stuff we all get excited about, definitely! But when did 144 minutes become the average running time for these? Cut the angst and get on with the story!

COMEDIES – 90 minutes, no exceptions, and I’m looking at you Judd Apatow! Those improvised scenes you shot with your pals may have seemed funny at the time, but they add nothing to the story. Their rightful place is on the DVD extras, not in the main body of the film. I’m looking forward to THIS IS 40 (can’t imagine why, it somehow strikes a chord with me), but does it really need to be 134 minutes long?

ANIMATED – 90 minutes. Think of the poor animators’ RSI!

BOOK ADAPTATIONS – 120 minutes. If I want the boring bits, I’ll read the book.

Any other suggestions…?

PS. Should anything I ever write exceed these rules, then feel free to slap me in the face with a leather glove and demand satisfaction.

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Taking massive liberties with history

Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie ZERO DARK THIRTY (with a screenplay by Mark Boal) has come in for criticism for its depiction of the events leading up to the death of Osama Bin Laden.

It’s been called pro-torture by some and an exposure of the futility of torture by others, and it’s merely the latest in a very long line of historical movies (albeit very recent history in this case) to be criticised for its handling of the truth. Christopher Hitchens called THE KING’S SPEECH a ‘gross falsification of history,’ and Antony Beevor was quick to point out the flaws in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and you don’t need to be Antonia Fraser to find fault with BRAVEHEART, GLADIATOR and BEN HUR.

And even when you do try and present something historical with attention to detail, you might despair to discover that a large chunk of your audience weren’t even aware it was based on fact. Like all those kids who were astonished to discover that the Titanic was a real ship.

But isn’t this all missing the point? Does anyone really go to the movies for factual truth? Is it even the job of the movies to give us facts? Emotional truths, most definitely, and if you want facts then try reading a book. But then, as Greg Proops has said on a number of occasions, most of human history has been written by icky white men who rape their maids (I couldn’t find a link with the exact quote, but he says it enough on his podcast, so check it out), so even the written truth from esteemed historians should be approached with caution. Even the best of them are writing with an agenda or bias.

Maybe the way to go is to follow the example of Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and start taking massive liberties with history? It added hugely to my enjoyment of the film when (SPOILER ALERT) Hitler was shot to pieces near the end. If the guardians of the facts aren’t happy with how film depicts history then maybe we should abandon all pretense and go all out? Have Napoleon riding a dinosaur into the battle of Agincourt! Why not? Well, I guess the process has already begun with ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, and may God have mercy on our souls for that.

On one script that I’m working on at the moment, my co-writer and I are having enormous fun placing one very prominent historical figure precisely where he shouldn’t be and then putting him through hell. I know it will probably enrage Antony Beevor, but we’re not writing the script for him, we’re writing it for you because you’re smart and you know the difference between the truth and the facts.

PS. A quick update: I was delighted to get a reply to this post from Antony Beevor himself! Only he did it over on my ‘About’ page…