Time to bring back the 90 minute movie?

Does a film need to stray over two hours, or can most actually get the job done in an hour and a half?


I’ve just spent an evening in front of the telly, in the company of the Spanish horror movie [Rec]. I didn’t know much about it, which helped, save for the liberal splashing of high star ratings on the cover. But what I did discover was that it built things up nicely, winked in the direction of Blair Witch, threw in some very strong jumps, and was off the screen in under an hour and twenty minutes. And it set me thinking: for I can’t remember the last Hollywood movie I sat through that was done and dusted, yet complete, in an hour and a half.

Now I’ve never had a problem with long movies, having sat through some nigh-on four-hour extravaganzas at the cinema in my time. In fact, often I welcome the fact that a film has the time and space to develop its characters and its plotlines. Heck, sometimes three hours isn’t enough: much of the first third of Casino is voice over-driven, and the ending of that is wrapped up with some haste, if memory serves.

But what I have a problem with is movies that don’t find their true length, and instead outstay their welcome. It’s a tried and trusted critics’ cliché that a film could lose a good 20 minutes from its running time, but more often than that, it’s entirely correct. Granted, this summer saw a surprisingly tight 150 minute plus blockbuster, but it also introduced us to an Indiana Jones film that surely needed its final act curtailing, and last year we had Spider-man 3 and Pirates 3 still gallivanting around on screen long after audience interest had peaked and audience buttocks had become numb.

Incidentally, the only major film that really got comfortably close to 90 minutes this summer was Hancock at 92, but ironically, that felt too like it was a good 20 minutes too long.

Ad – content continues below

The worst offenders, for me, are comedies. Last year’s Knocked Up, for instance, had little reason to stretch beyond the two hour mark, and yet that’s just what it did, just about managing to outstay its welcome in the process. I understand Tropic Thunder this year proved to be a good 90 minute movie in two hours of clothing. Comedies, like animated movies, have to work extra-hard to sustain the interest beyond an hour and a half, and bluntly, most of them come nowhere near close to doing so.

It was Woody Allen, I believe, who once remarked that no movie needed to be longer than 90 minutes, and yet even his most recent UK release – Cassandra’s Dream – weighed in at 108 minutes, and Match Point went over two hours. He’s not got below 90 minutes since Shadows and Fog in 1992.

Now I’m not, to be clear, suggesting that films are cut down to size on principle. But instead, how about spending an extra bit of time tightening them, and finding their natural length? Is editing now all about flashy cuts and injecting effects, rather than getting a film down to its proper running time? Is script editing being sacrificed in the stampede to get a working screenplay in front of the cameras?

Quite possibly. But what [Rec] proves is that you can deliver and be packed up comfortably inside a two-hour running time if you know what you’re doing. Granted, [Rec]’s tale is quite a simple one at heart, but aren’t many of the films passing through modern day multiplexes? The difference here is that its makers were simply more disciplined and less self-indulgent when finding where the stop point was, and in the process delivered a horror film that’s struggled to find equal in recent years.

Do check it out. Heck, you’ll have time to watch another film afterwards…


Ad – content continues below