Movie running times: a rant in one act

Transformers: two and a half hours. Pirates 3: nearly three hours. Why are these films getting so long, for so little reason?


Woody Allen once said that movies should never run for more than ninety minutes – a suggestion that Hollywood has clearly forgotten.

Take the summer blockbuster Transformers, for example. That movie lasts nearly two-and-a-half hours – ridiculously long for a film presumably aimed at restless, twelve year old Kia-Ora fuelled kids. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Transformers is a rather silly film about robots fighting over a pair of Victorian pince-nez – it’s not a grown-up, worthy production about the life of Ghandi or Johnny Cash.

When director David Fincher creates a movie like Zodiac – a thought-provoking, detailed look at police procedure, based on real events – we can just about forgive him for meting out approximately 158 minutes of backside punishment because the film is intelligently made and ultimately rewarding.

What is far less forgivable is when a hack action director makes a film like Die Hard 4.0 nearly three hours long for no particular reason. Like most of this year’s movies, there were huge reels of footage that could easily have been cut: endless minutes of pointless, flatly delivered exposition; unfunny comic relief; those irritating shots of people looking dolefully/lovingly/angrily into one another’s eyes.

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Since the revival of Sword and Sandal movies a few years ago (we have Ridley Scott’s Gladiator to thank I feel), directors appear to be desperate to make their own films in a similarly epic format, whether the subject matter deserves the treatment or not. Even a simple, light-hearted comedy about unexpected fatherhood (Knocked Up) ends up weighing in at over two hours long – if the trend continues, we’ll all have to take sleeping bags to the cinema with us in five years’ time.

Perhaps Hollywood feels it’s beginning to lose ground to the new wave of big-budget, high concept television shows like Lost or Heroes that can, over twenty or thirty episodes, introduce complex, interweaving plotlines and characters in a way that cinema (that is, American summer blockbuster cinema) can’t hope to replicate.

Or maybe Hollywood is trying to make films so massively long that it’s actually quicker to go to the cinema and see them properly, rather than attempt to download them illegally from the internet…

Having said all this, it came as a huge relief that David Cronenberg’s latest, Eastern Promises, manages to cram a quite gripping tale of murderous Russian gangsters – in all their brooding, throat-cutting, Godfather-style glory – into a little over an hour and a half.

Now that, I feel, is the mark of a truly great filmmaker.