Why are we so suspicious of shorter blockbuster films?

News Simon Brew 17 Jan 2013 - 07:43

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' sub-90-minute length has caused suspicion on the web. When did shorter films become a bad thing, we wonder?

Every now and then on our Twitter feed, we post information about confirmed running times and certifications for interesting looking movies. One of those, earlier this week, was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which we suspect might be a good, concentrated blast of fun. We're not expecting an epic from it, but Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in an action-filled subversion of fairy tale characters has something to it.

In this particular instance, we reported that the film had been granted a 15 certificate in the UK (none of that 12A pandering here, by the looks of it), and that the confirmed running time was 87 minutes. And it was the latter that got the biggest reaction. That because the film was under an hour and a half, there's a deep suspicion that it's been chopped to ribbons.

Granted, the fact that the film was postponed from its original release date last year adds a little fuel to the theory, but I do wonder if the idea of a big, short movie is now some kind of paradox.

Certainly when you look at the running times of many modern blockbusters, there's a growing expectation that two hours is about the minimum you'd expect. Films such as the Transformers movies, Christopher Nolan's latter two Batman films and Joss Whedon's The Avengers have pushed the boundaries to two and a half. By the time James Cameron's Avatar 2 comes around, we wouldn't be too surprised if an interval will be reintroduced.

I distinctly remember that, once upon a time, long films often used to carry some kind of warning. One Birmingham-based cinema, when I was growing up, even added a note to its listing for screenings of JFK in the local paper, advising people that the film was over three hours long. Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet was listed by some cinemas as having a break in the middle. Now, family movies aside, anything under two feels really rather brief.

It was Woody Allen, as we've mentioned on this site before, who once argued that no film ever need be longer than 90 minutes (you had to go back nearly two decades for the last of his movies to clock in under that level, ironically enough), but sub-90 now seems to spell trouble. Certainly, there are examples where that kind of brevity is testament to a hack job in the editing room. Jonah Hex was bashed down to 81 minutes for its final cut, and the lack of coherence suggests that a focus on telling the story wasn't ultimately the prime objective. Go back to the earlier The Avengers movie too, and that fell under 80 minutes, with large chunks blatantly and clumsily chopped out.

But perhaps, in the case of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, 87 minutes is the amount of time that the filmmakers actually needed to tell the story? I've not seen the film yet so can't judge that, but I have sat through a lot of interesting 90 minute features stuck in the middle of a two hour movie of late. Films that would have benefited from some pruning, and a willingness to bring the running time down.

The problem is that there's inherent negativity in expensive films being short. That our collective tentacles suggest problems, and that there's an inherent fear that no filmmaker in their right mind, making a blockbuster movie, would aim for something so apparently brief. If a film's not at least 100 minutes long, then there has to be something wrong with it, it seems. Never mind the fact that the shortest RoboCop movie is actually the best one, or that films such as Paths Of Glory, Stand By Me, The Iron Giant, Duel and many other classics barely need an hour and a half to tell their story so well.

A bit of me can't help thinking that digital filming hasn't helped here, in that a day's shoot isn't quite as hold hostage to how much physical film is available on a given day. As such, more footage is being shot, and more footage is making it into the final cut of films. It's a crude generalisation, certainly, but I do wonder if there's something in it. That said, the trend for longer blockbuster movies has dated back to the 90s.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters may turn out to be great. It may yet turn out to be a disaster. But I quite like the idea of a modern day blockbuster that doesn't outstay its welcome, and leaves me wanting more rather than waiting for the credits.

Heck, over a third of the movie will have passed by the time Bilbo Baggins walked out of his front door in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And which of those two things is, ultimately, most worthy of complaint? Just a thought...

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Hansel & Gretel - Witch Hunters is a fim that I've been extremely excited about since I first heard the title. I can't say that it's ever struck me as a film that would be competing with or classed as a blockbuster but aimed more at the horror market than any other.
In that respect, an 87 minute run time seems not out of the ordinary at all. Cabin in the Woods clocked in at just over 90 minutes last year. I think Hansel & Gretel will be going for the hit 'em fast, hit 'em hard method and will deliver a great deal of fun. It's not going to be the kind of film that needs to slow it's pace down for character's to catch their breath.

'Dredd' was a mere 96 minutes in length and that was one of 2012's best films...

Lake Placid - great little film. Does it everything it needs to in about 80 minutes. A few jumps, memorable one liners, and a touching Bill Pullman romance. Throwback to the classic 80 B-movies like Alligator which we don't get too many of these days.

I don't think Hansel & Gretel will be anything like that. But if it can take even a little inspiration from Army of Darkness it could be quite fun.

In some ways a 90 minute movie can work, the only problem I have is that a 90 minute production still feels like a tv show in most ways. Sherlock for example, little argument that you can put everything needed to entertain, tell a great story and captivate into the aforementioned time slot. Now being at a cinema and paying £7 plus to see a film of that short of a length does feel like watching a made for tv program and thinking like that, as if I've been cheated out of my cash and have paid to see something that I could have from the bbc on my own personal widescreen at home.
I've always maintained that a cinema experience should be value for money even if i didnt enjoy the movie i have watched, as long as I felt removed from the world for a few hours in a large box of enhanced sound and visuals. An hour and a half film works for a straight to DVD production and maybe a movie made for children but to reflect the cost of the entrance ticket if prefer 'a feature length'.

Personally, if we started to see more sub-90 minute films, my bladder would be most pleased.

Films have, on average gotten longer over the years. I watched an old Sherlock Holmes movie last night, it was 60 minutes long. I think it just seems to be expected for block busters to be epic in length as well as scale. the Transformers movies for example could of done with being at least an hour shorter each

The Little Mermaid and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both awesome movies on opposite end of spectrum from each other, and sub-90.

90 minutes was all John Matrix needed


The Pirates of the Carribean movies last about 4 weeks. Avengers Assemble last about 80 minutes. Yet, apparently all of these movies are around the 2 hour mark.

It's not about length, it's about pacing.

Let off some steam, Bennett

There's a length vs price ratio prevalent for a lot of people these days and you can see it in comments for all types of entertainment. Dishonored, a very critically acclaimed and popular game from last year had more than a few people remark on the "brevity" of it's 8 hour single player campaign. Novels, which even just a few years ago, would have released with little over 300 pages now ship pushing the 500 mark. Quality is subjective; it does not matter how many reviewers and comments praise a particular film or book's merits, who is to say that we will feel the same way about it and not that we tossed our money into the crapper. Quantity, however, is something a potential buyer can sink their teeth into and it matters not that some could benefit from a good trim from a quality point of view when leaving it in will lead to bigger sales. Of course, Hansel and Gretal is probably crap.

I recently attempted (and failed sadly) a Movie challenge - watching 100 films during December.

One thing that the experiment highlighted for me was that it is perfectly possible to tell a good, complete story in under 90 minutes. If anything, a shorter running time is a positive for me now as there is less chance of pointless scenes or overly-extended set-pieces.

However there is still a place for longer 'epic' movies, provided they have the focus and energy to support it, and they don't pad out the plot unnecessarily. I suspect that in this case the plot is unlikely to be particularly complex and would probably would suffer for being overstretched.

The Avanegers impressed me the most as it didn't feel as long as it was. Whereas most films..... and no way will a interval be reintroduced - allow people to pause and think about what they're watching? It'll be the death of Micheal Bay.

Agreed, with so many films flagging in the 2nd act, a little brevity wouldn't hurt.

and to all her buy it! so we can get a sequel

In regard to digital cameras being part of the problem what about the IMAX cameras Nolan is using and saying are the future of cinema? They're cumbersome, noisy, not many exist, heavy, and use film, but Nolan's made 2+ hour movies with them, surely its not just digital's fault.

Apart from that my feeling is that a film is as long as it needs to be, enough to tell the story or express what the director wants to say and no more, if that means it's 87 minutes, then ok, if that means it needs to be 3 hours (and can be justified), fine. As long as whatever it is makes sense and is of interest I have no problem with that. Of course editing plays a major part in telling a story and sadly that isn't always in the director's hands, so clearly people need to pay attention to that aspect as much as any other in the films making. Hansel and Gretel might not have been chopped to bits it might be a fun piece of exploitation filmmaking, rather than rushing to judgement why don't we just wait and see.

For the value for money crowd - perhaps cinemas need to bring back double features...

Films over 90 minutes to two hours are not films I would describe as epics. Epics are the Gone with the Winds, Hamlets (Branagh version), Ben-Hurs, Lord of the Rings - of the world. They tend to be over two hours in length.

Some films are too long or even too short for their total running time when their pacing is up the creek.

People should judge a film on its merits (or lack thereof) rather than its running time. To be wary of a film with a shorter running time than most is ludicrous.

There can be a feeling of not being good value for money if a film is short.
Personally I feel most films should be in the 100-140 mins range.
80 mins seems like a 2 parter TV show or a kids film.

But then it's not so much about the length of a film, it's more about pacing.
A high octane action movie with almost constant action can get away with coming in short.
Same goes for a lot of feel good comedies or horror films. The 90 minute mark is appropriate for these types of films - audiences might start to lose interest if they are on for 3 hrs. Where as an epic sci-fi/fantasy usually tends to be a bit longer, to give you the idea of scale, it seems 150 mins seems to be the usual nowadays.

If the pacing is good then you really shouldn't notice the running time.
The Nolan Batman films for example don't seem too long.

Some films do seem to last too long though.
The Lord of the Rings films can drag on a bit (especially the third film - with it's 20 endings)

Each episode of Sherlock (the BBC TV series) has been 90 minutes long and yet we still very much consider them episodes, as opposed to longer films.

Length doesn't matter. There are fantastic long films and there are fantastic shorter films. What matters is the quality of what we're seeing.

Nothing wrong with a film of that lenght. Quality is what counts for me.. As said below.. nothing wrong with Dredd at that length and I enjoyed Premium Rush too which was "short". I'd rather come away wanting more.. than suffer what many reviewers cite as "dragged out towards the end" or "about 10-15 mins too long".

Bilbo spent far too long faffing around.. talk about padding!!!

If you enjoy the film then its irrelevant how long it is - if you've paid your £7 and you come out thinking 'I really enjoyed that' then surely that's what counts?

The Hobbit's length was ridiculous. There was literally 15 mins of footage showing Dwarves doing the dishes. I was sat there thinking "WTF? Since when did house hold chores become part of a blockbuster movie?" at this rate, the next Avengers will have Thor wandering around the battle carrier searching for darks to put in the washing machine and the Hulk doing the weekly shop in Wal-Mart. Hulk Shop!

Hear, hear! Well said.

Exactly. I didn't come out of ZERO DARK THIRTY thinking, "Wow, how long was that?". I came out thinking about how much I liked the film, not it's length. If the film keeps your attention on the screen--then that's what should matter.

To be entierly fair the the Hobbit, the pacing picked right up once they got out the bloody door.

yeah i'm not concerned one bit about the length because the movie looks like garbage to begin with.

Well "Superman IV, The Quest For Peace" was only ninety minutes long, but the reason for that was because The Cannon Group owned the cinemas showing it, so they wanted to make sure there were as many showings as possible to generate more revenue. It's this that lead to the original Nuclear Man being cut, apart from the fact that a fourth film was just a milk on the series anyway.

I'd watch that!

It really is all about the individual piece. Plenty of films are longer than is necessary. For the Avengers Assemble to achieve it's own title(which is ALL it did) did not require anywhere approaching 143min, but would have probably been more palatable at 80-90mins. I should probably also add that it's a matter of personal preference as I'm pretty sure I stand alone on that one.

Any film that's longer than about 100 minutes has to justify it.

On the Hobbit, it's kinda expected for the main character to take a little bit of thinking time before stepping out the door. As for Bilbo's screen time after that, I thought it was too LITTLE!...The film's called The Hobbit, not Thorin and Gandalf's Grumpy Bromance with Some Cameos From Bilbo

Regardless of length... part of what makes a good film "good" is that it is exactly the right length for the story it's telling.

I personally don't understand all the hate towards Quantum of Solace, I think it is a fine continuation of the previous film's storyline, but one of the things people highlight in their criticisms is that it was "too short for a Bond movie".

People forget too that theater owners actually prefer shorter films because they can squeeze more showings into a day.

In the days before digital projection it was 20 minutes a reel, 3 reels per can, thus 2 shipping cans per movie to each theater. Movies over 2 hours, bam, a whole extra can to ship! Might as well make it 3 hours. So I'd blame digital projection as well - longer movies cost less to distribute than they used to.

Which is too bad because 90% of stories CAN and SHOULD be told in under 2 hours. One of the reasons I think animation is so successful is due to its enormous cost - the movie must be a short as possible, thus every scene has to count = a better movie for it.

I never knew this was even an issue

I was surprised at how short the run time was, it felt much longer, but in a good way.

And I believe not owning a copy of Dredd is a mandatory three month sentence in the iso-cubes. So go out there and buy it people! :P

It's all about value for money, 80 - 90 minutes is only slightly longer than the average UKTV drama at 60 minutes, I think it is not unreasonable given the cost of cinema tickets to get value for money in a decent length film, Jurassic Park 3 annoyed me intensely I was really enjoying it, 80 odd minutes in it seemed like it was gearing itself up for a spectacular last act... 2 minutes later the film had finished, 92 minutes running time according to IMDB.

The Hobbit was too long but not by a huge amount, maybe 30 minute at the outside which would still make it 140 minutes, anything less would have been terrible.

I thought AA was too short...

As I get older, the value of time is of increasing worth to me! If I'm going to spend more than 2 hours in a cinema seat, that movie better not be dragging its heels.
Certain films, like biopics or complex novels, might struggle with 90 minutes and I have no issue them hitting the 150 minute mark. But indulgent directors like Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino and Michael Bay really just abuse the free hand the studios give them.

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