Granted that on the face of it, the running time of films doesn’t sound like the sexiest of features but like it or lump it, the post-production stage can have a monumental effect on the length and therefore overall mood of the final product. And, just like that, one missing piece in a 20,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, the removal of mere minutes of footage can sway audience opinion from contented enlightenment to a frustrating “what the hell was that all about!”
Of course, there’s always the opportunity to get your hands on extended and director’s cuts once the plateau point of theatrical release takings prompts the DVD release. It’s always going to be the film groupies that are willing to fork out extra for the chance to see those additional twenty minutes of deleted scenes. In many cases, and frustratingly so for film fans, it’s those precious extra minutes that can provide the all-important eureka moment where everything clicks into place.
To name but one prime example, James Cameron’s own cut of Aliens (1986) included a poignant conversation where Ripley, awoken from hyper-sleep, learns her own daughter has died of old age. Not only does this lay the foundations for her mother bear instincts to kick in later on in the film with the character of Newt but it’s a nice contrast to all the carnage. All in all, an additional 17 minutes well worth risking a numb bum in a cinema seat for.
It’s all too easy to imagine the editing room as the front line of an on-going battle between good and evil – the former being our plucky director, keen for the audience to see the unabridged version of their vision with the latter being the cigar smoking studios execs determined to hack away at the director’s masterpiece in a manner similar to Leatherface being set on a posse of nosey teens.
In truth, there are few films that wouldn’t benefit from having a quick trim to tidy up the sides. Getting your news, emails and updates at the touch of a button has definitely fostered current fidgety feelings amongst modern cinema goers – why spend three hours of your precious weekend delving into some saga when you can have a concentrated dose of the same at a palatable hour and twenty minutes?
Filmmakers would do well to heed these warning signs of waning attention spans. Gone are the days of back-to-back film trilogies at the cinema attracting scores of discerning cinemagoers. Those tweets won’t tweet themselves, after all!
There are, however, mainstream films that are bucking the trend and getting away with it. Running at an eye-straining two hours thirty minutes and almost three hours respectively, the first and second sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) both cleaned up at the box office making the franchise amongst the most lucrative in movie history. With a third sequel in 2011 coming up trumps and another planned for 2015 it looks at though studio bosses are determined to milk that wizened pirate teat to its very last drop of curdled rum.
This is evidence of two things – the first being that Johnny Depp mincing around for hours will mollify audiences to a multitude of cinematic sins – the second being that a running time of three hours does not always a cohesive story make.
Still, someone in La La Land must be taking notice. Over the past five or so years the winners of the Best Picture at the Academy Awards have all teetered on or well below the two hour mark with only The Hurt Locker (2008) daring to push the boat at a reasonable 131 minutes. This is a far cry from the three hour plus epics of nineties Oscar winning pictures Dances With Wolves and Schindler’s List. Perhaps a reflection of our changing attitude to what construes a worthy watch – the requirement of patience replaced with punchier little numbers that get in there and get the job done within two hours tops.
David Lynch famously donned the Alan Smithee alter ego for the extended cut of Dune (1984), apparently unhappy about the added scenes taking the running time up to 180 minutes. The fans were all over it. However, logic rules that if one of the kings of unconventional cinema decides to tone it down, it’s probably best that the majority follow suit. Put it this way – there’s only so much worm wrangling any viewer should have to endure.
When all is said and done, there will always be room for David Lean or Sergio Leone style film marathons that test our commitment and, indeed, our bladders. And who knows – these drawn out gems of the cinema may be all the more important in a future where streams of information can be downloaded in an instant. They remind us that some times, we should take the time to fully absorb what we are witnessing on screen.
As a conclusion to a feature urging the crackdown on lengthy running times, it is, non-committal at best and at worst contradictory. But in truth, it’s all about finding that sweet spot veering towards film zen.
Theatrical releases will always be awash with run away running times in dire need of reigning in. Over-egged fight scenes, car chases breaking the ten minute mark and pointless filler dialogue. To the film makers responsible – cut it out (quite literally).
But let’s not forget the epic cinematic slogs either – they are, for lovers of film, what rainy Sunday afternoons were made for.