Where Did the 90-Minute Movie Go?
In case you missed it, Beauty and the Beast had one monster of an opening weekend, breezing past Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s March opening record with a $170 million haul over three days. It’s a coup for Disney, which isn’t going to stop doing live-action remakes of their beloved animated properties anytime soon. A sequel to The Jungle Book is coming up, as are reimaginings of Mulan, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, and a crapton more. If they’re all roughly the same quality as Beauty and the Beast, that’ll be… eh… OK. Like I wrote in my review, Beauty and the Beast has its fair share of problems, but it’s entertaining enough.
Since writing that review, there’s one thing that I keep coming back to. It’s this:
Beauty and the Beast (1991): One hour, 24 minutes
Beauty and the Beast (2017): Two hours, 9 minutes
Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, the screenwriters behind this year’s Beauty and the Beast, added 45 minutes of material to what was otherwise a pretty cut-and-dried remake. Some of it gave us new insight into the characters. Most of it didn’t. It felt slapped on, like Chbosky and Spiliotopoulos were desperately trying to justify their paychecks when most of the script was already there. (Just take the easy money and run, boys.)
Or here’s another take: Beauty and the Beast is the latest example of a syndrome that’s begun worming its way into big-budget movies with ever higher frequency over the last handful of years. The syndrome? Running Time Bloat.
Do you remember when it was the exception, not the rule, for a movie to be over two hours? Before 2010, there was only one X-Men movie (X2) that was longer than 120 minutes. Since then, there’s been only one that’s clocked in under that: Deadpool, rocking a svelte 108-minute running time as God himself intended. X-Men: Apocalypse is two hours and 24 minutes long. Why? Would chopping half an hour off have made it slightly less of a jumbled mess than Fox wanted it to be?
But the X-Men franchise is far from the only offender. Power Rangers, out this Friday, is two hours and four minutes long; 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was one hour, 35 minutes. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came in at two hours, 31 minutes, which was simultaneously two hours and 31 minutes too long yet still too short for Warner Bros., which released a 181-minute extended cut on home video. Warcraft: Two hours, three minutes. Divergent: Two hours, 19 minutes. Hell, let’s take it to the big board:
Avengers: Age of Ultron—Two hours, 21 minutes
Captain America: Civil War-Two hours, 27 minutes
Logan—Two hours, 17 minutes
A Cure for Wellness—Two hours, 26 minutes
Patriots Day-Two hours, 13 minutes
Rogue One-Two hours, 13 minutes
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-Two hours, 13 minutes
Man of Steel-Two hours, 23 minutes
Iron Man 3-Two hours, 10 minutes
Captain America: Winter Soldier-Two hours, 16 minutes
X-Men: Days of future Past-Two hours, 12 minutes
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children—Two hours, 7 minutes
Magnificent Seven—Two hours, 13 minutes
Snowden-Two hours, 14 minutes
Ben-Hur-Two hours, 3 minutes
Jason Bourne-Two hours, 3 minutes
Star Trek Beyond-Two hours, 2 minutes
Gods of Egypt-Two hours, 6 minutes
And, the primo offender of Running Time Bloat, forever and ever, amen… Michael Bay:
Transformers: Two hours, 24 minutes
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Two hours, 30 minutes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Two hours, 34 minutes
Transformers: Age of Extinction: Two hours, 45 minutes
On the whole, we are looking at a trend where movies are stretching, stretching, stretching ever further past the two hour mark. Why? Do these stories, taken as a whole, require more time to tell than they did back in the early oughts? Well, no. Studios are competing with each other on the level of pure spectacle, an ongoing game of one-upmanship that gives us more pointless subplots and more numb butts. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t ~*~epic~*~ because it has a story that requires two and a half hours to tell. It’s ~*~epic~*~, we are told, because it’s a two and a half hour movie, so it must be epic—much more EPIC and IMPORTANT than all those piddly little two hour superhero movies, so plop down $15 bucks a ticket and spring for 3D besides, whydoncha? We need a whole aside where Jesse Eisenberg tricks Holly Hunter with a jar of piss.
Studios aren’t just competing against each other: They’re competing against TV and video games and all sorts of other things that provide compelling reasons for moviegoers to stay home on their couches. “Look at us,” they say, “we’re the moving pic-tchahs. Sure, we may be in the era of ‘peak TV,’ but can ‘peak TV’ do this? *shoots sky portals out of its butt*” I love spectacle as much as the next person, but—and maybe this is old-fashioned of me—stories shouldn’t have extra shit in them. A movie should get in, tell its story and get out. “Kill your darlings” is time-honored writing advice for a R E A S O N.
John Wick Chapter 2 is a 90-minute movie that was some-fucking-how made as a two hour, two minute movie. I liked John Wick: Chapter 2. But did we need every single one of those shootouts? Really?
Sometimes a two hour-plus running time is necessary. I give Joss Whedon a pass on The Avengers (two hours, 23 minutes), where he was tasked with stitching characters from a handful of different sub-franchises into a coherent whole. The Force Awakens had to re-establish the original Star Wars mythos while also introducing a new set of characters, so if Abrams comes in at two hours, sixteen minutes, fine. Most importantly, those movies don’t have fat on them. They don’t drag. Compare that with Suicide Squad, which needed a two hour, three minute running time despite boasting a solid hour of character introduction.
(This isn’t a Marvel vs DC thing, by the way. Marvel is guilty of this, too. The Sharon Carter subplot in Civil War—two hours, 27 minutes—added very little to the overall whole, and the Netflix TV shows would be much better if they trimmed the filler and capped themselves at eight episodes per season. Yes, even Jessica Jones. And Ultron, oh Ultron, with its Thor bathtime vision quest.)
This Stretch Armstrongification of movies isn’t true across the board: Independence Day: Resurgence is actually shorter than Independence Day, and there are still a decent number of big-budget blockbusters that come in around an hour and forty-five minutes, among them Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Assassin’s Creed. On the flip side, there are certain franchises that have always run long, like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. But, then, the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises pulled whole movies out of thin air. With Harry Potter, the final book in the series was split into two movies, starting a trend that would eventually wing its way around to Rings spinoff The Hobbit, which tried to squeeze as much money out of consumers as possible by stretching its source material into three movies. It’s studios treating 90-minute movies like the plague taken to its most extreme form.
*Thorin Oakenshield’s crazy gold pool acid trip? Didn’t need that.
*Newt Scamander’s grand tour through his suitcase menagerie in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Nah.
*Quite so long a detour to rescue Space Mads Mikkelsen in Rogue One? In the immortal words of Joey from Full House (never “Uncle Joey”): “Cut. It. Out.”
*Furious 7: I know editorial precision is anathema to a franchise that is defined by batshit excess, but when your first two action setpieces (the mountain and the Abu Dhabi skyscraper) are your big “holy shit OMG” moments, the big finale—keep-away with Missandei in Los Angeles—gets a bit draggy. Trim your shit.
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