Is hasty post-production leading to longer movies?

Are directors being enough time to tighten their movies in post-production? Tight deadlines could lead to long films, Simon writes...

This summer, perhaps more than most, summer blockbusters are being rapidly pre-judged. World War Z was supposed to be a disaster for instance, but having now sat through it, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Likewise, even though the reviews for it have been largely negative, Ryan found things to like in After Earth.

Thus, it’s perhaps little surprise that Gore Verbinski’s upcoming The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, is being lined up as the next target. I’m cautiously optimistic about it. The fact that Verbinski has apparently invested heavily in physical, practical sequences over CG is surely to be commended, and if he can capture what worked about his first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of his next two, The Lone Ranger may yet prove to be a strong surprise.

However, a warning light certainly started flashing last week, when the film got its UK certificate from the BBFC. It’s not that it got a 12A that’s the problem. Rather, that the running time has been confirmed at a bum-numbing 149 minutes. For a Lone Ranger movie.

I don’t mind long movies when the narrative demands them. But I do mind movies that drag on long, long past their welcome. Bluntly, you’re going to need an awful lot up your sleeve to entertain a Friday night crowd for 149 minutes. I sincerely hope The Lone Ranger (or The Long Ranger as some of our Twitter tolerators have been calling it) has.

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But it did get me wondering. It’s been a complaint for a good few years now that blockbusters are getting longer, and I can’t help wondering if a truncated post-production window may be partly responsible for that. Appreciating that this doesn’t apply to The Lone Ranger per se, we’re in an era where studios want sequels within two years (one, in the case of Fast & Furious 7), and some time compromise has to be made to meet that.

So does that time compromise come in pre-production? Possibly, although script writing sequels tends to overlap with earlier films now. The physical production itself, meanwhile, is hard to curtail. If you don’t have the footage, you don’t have the film at all. So, I wonder, is the economy being made in the edit suite?

Already, the demands on post-production are extreme. A modern blockbuster needs to accommodate a broad collection of FX shots, that have to be knitted to the live action footage. That’s an extensive job, and surely one that’s as demanding as it’s ever been. Furthermore, with globe trotting press junkets now the norm, the final picture lock deadline seems tighter than ever.

And I wonder if the biggest casualty is allowing the director time to find their film. Because if the clock is ticking, and you’ve got your movie down to 140 minutes, for instance, where’s the time in the schedule for sitting down and cutting out the fat? Where’s the thinking time? Has the migration to digital over 35mm sped things up, to the point where human beings are expected to go at the pace that technology lets them, and not one jot slower?

Cutting material out, of course, still happens, but how many times do many of us sit in front of a modern blockbuster and sense that it could easily lose 10 or 15 minutes? Granted, that’s often easier to say than do, but if the audience is feeling it, surely that’s picked up on somewhere behind the scenes too at some point.

World War Z, ironically, has come in for a lot of criticism for its reshoots and retooling of its third act. But should it be criticised for that? A working cut of the film was put together early enough, a drastic solution was suggested, and Paramount rolled the dice. Furthermore, the running time is under two hours, and whether you like the film or not, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Elysium, meanwhile, has been in post production for a good year or two, and reports suggest that director Neill Blomkamp’s final cut also comes under the two hour mark.

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Is that a coincidence? Possibly. Man Of Steel, after all, has been in post for a long time, yet the final duration is over 140 minutes. But the deadlines, demands, and sheer amount of money involved in big films are clearly leading to sizeable pressures, and it strikes me that the one area of a production cycle that’s likely to suffer the most, primarily because of where it sits chronologically in the process, is post-production.

The Lone Ranger’s running time, after all, has real echoes of Gore Verbinski’s Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, a pair of films made back to back where the production was notoriously tight for time, and it felt like the editing needed more time. In both cases, the final cuts felt like they could have used a lot of extra work. At World’s End ran for 169 minutes, and I remember feeling all but about 15 of them.

Interestingly, rumours persist that director Alan Taylor and Marvel have been clashing on the final running time for Thor: The Dark World, with the latter wanting a shorter film than the former is delivering. How much there is to that remains to be seen, though.

Yet stories like that seem rare though in the modern blockbuster climate. And with so many technological tools now around that can help cut time out of the process of putting a film together, I just hope that studios allow a director and editor both thinking time and space to tune and fix a movie. I fear that is happening just a little less on some big movies, and I think the by-product of that is the bloated running times that, in most cases, rarely feel justified.

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