>This article Long flicks: To cut or not to cut? got me thinking.
I am curious as to why, when discussing the length of movies, 2 hours seems to be the key marker. In other words, a film that is over 2 hours automatically becomes a target for questioning the validity of its length while a film shorter than 2 hours rarely comes under such scrutiny. I understand the argument that theaters can get in more screenings per day with a shorter film, but a typical critique of film length rarely includes theater owners. Most of the time it is a critic who argues that a film is too long, and not for financial reasons, of course, but on the film’s artistic merits. But why is 2 hours the demarcation point? Why not 3 hours? Or 4? Is it the momentum of tradition, the weight of expectation, cultural conditioning, the limits of the human psyche or attention span?
I find this topic interesting because I tend to like lengthier films. I also like slow moving, contemplative films. Therefore, a film that I find just perfect may be far too long for another viewer. I also like tightly crafted shorter-length films. However, I am more likely to criticise a film for not taking the extra time to properly develop the story or key characters than argue a film is too long. Those who see films with me may notice that when it comes to films I really like I will often say I would have liked the film to be longer, to keep going. Maybe I’m just quirky.
One maybe-not-so-serious thought: I wonder if the length of films is more closely tied to biological reasons, such as the average size of the human bladder, than anything else. Isn’t that the real reason for those big epic films of yesteryear providing the audience with an intermission? (Also, so the filmgoers might purchase more concessions?) If a film is dragging a bit and you’ve consumed all your Pepsi, you’re probably more likely to become frustrated with the filmmaker for making you suffer. If that is true, then I think an interesting study would take a look at the perceptions of appropriate film length between those who watched a film in the theater and those who watched the same film on DVD (where you can pause the film for various reasons).
So what then is a long movie? Is there a “magic” length? Does length have a bearing on a film’s quality?