An Argument For 60-Minute Movies


Movies are way too long. I have seen 43-minute episodes of Lost that are far better than the two or three times longer blockbusters of recent years. When I finally do go watch a long movie, I’ll sometimes be re-cutting it in my head, imagining scenes that could be trimmed or left out entirely. Imagine if you will, an alternate reality where The Matrix has only one sequel spanning the two that we have been served: a single sequel that entirely left out Zion, including that one Planet Of the Apes nightclub scene. Yep. Better movie for it.

Mostly, but not exclusively, this is an issue with movies that are seen in the cinema. It is here that the 90 minute limit starts to test our bladder control. For DVD releases, other rules apply simply because you can press pause and/or stop. For DVDs, your choice matters. If you want to, you can buy the Special Extended 251 min. version of Return Of The King, and then proceed to watch it over two or three nights. You’ll be fine. It’ll be like watching a mini-series.

In the cozy red cinema chair, however, 251 minutes is not okay. In fact the 201 minutes of the theatrical cut of Return Of The King is not okay. When you go to the cinema, you make a leap of faith and shell out money for a night of movie magic; all based solely on 2 or 3-minute trailers. If the movie doesn’t keep you entertained for the duration, the director has effectively wasted most of your night.

For a moment or two, snap out of it and ponder a 60 minute movie. Viewers could watch your movie at 8 o’clock and leave at 9. If your movie stunk, well, it wasn’t a whole evening ruined;  if your movie was good, great! 60 minutes isn’t a serious commitment, maybe more people will watch your reel.

I admit that perhaps it’s unrealistic to ask for movies that are just above TV episodes in length, but there is not a sole shred of doubt in my mind that a majority of movies would have been better had they been drastically shortened:

  • Matrix 2 & 3 (138 and 129 min)
  • Star Wars Episode 1 (133 min)
  • Spiderman 3 (139 min)
  • The Da Vinci Code (149 min)
  • The Dark Knight (152 min)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 and 3 (143, 151 and 169 min)
  • Alexander (175 min)
  • King Kong  (187 min)

On the flipside, here are a few shortish movies:

  • Cloverfield (85 min)
  • My Neighbour Totoro (86 min)
  • Napoleon Dynamite (86 min)
  • Shogun Assassin (86 min)

If you’ve seen either of the above pieces in the cinema, the experience is likely to speak for itself. Yes, King Kong works on DVD, but Alexander and Spiderman 3 certainly do not. But they might have, had they clocked in at 60 minutes. Discuss.

6 thoughts on “An Argument For 60-Minute Movies

  1. I must admit, Alexander didn’t even work on DVD. That said, I think it’s unfair to include Pirates 1 and The Dark Knight in this list since I feel they had a good pace and rhythm that the length was not bothersome at all. I’m sure you could cut something without ruining the films, maybe even make the better, but I think you can say that about pretty much all other films too.

  2. You are clinically insane. Discuss.

    Long movies is what the cinema does best. The problem isn’t with the concept of long movies, it’s with the movies themselves. To suggest that Alexander is a film that could be executed in 60 minutes is to question why anyone would want to sit through a 7 course chinese meal, when they can grab a hotdog instead.

    Imagine a 60 minute version of 2001: A Space Oddyssey, you luddite! Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With the Wind, Once Upon a Time in the West.

    The problem isn’t with the time, it’s with the movies.

    Now. You can argue for episodic movies, wherein you spend time only with the first hour of a movie, and if you like it, you watch its followers. But… isn’t that… what Lost… is?

    Generally I agree with you though. Most movies should be shorter. Have you watched the new Chainsaw Masacre? It’s 90 minutes FLAT. And it ain’t half bad; but only because it knows its own limitations.

    That said, for none of the movies you listed did I walk out of the cinema feeling cheated out of my money. Lots of the movies had fat that should’ve been cut (oh Pirates), but for me it’s actually a larger issue on the small screen.

    Okay. I felt cheated with The Da Vinci Code, but no cutting could have saved that trainwreck.

    Oh, and never say a bad word about Lord of the Rings again, or else… I’ll be all like… Hey, you… Don’t say bad things about Lord of the Rings, or else…

  3. Okay, you guys make some good points, I’ll grant you that.

    Particularly the hotdog argument (nearly) won me over. And for the record, I did like all the Lord of the Rings movies, and have the extended DVDs.

    I concede that the problem is with the movies, not solely with their length.

    I will not concede, however, that long movies is what the cinema does best. I find it to be bad taste to make movies that are longer than 2 hours and abusive to make movies that are between 2 and 3 even. Yes, there are the odd movies that work, even in the cinema, at those runtimes. But usually when they do work at those runtimes, it’s because we’re talking works of art.

    In the introduction to the new directors cut of Alien, Ridley Scott introduces the movie by saying he was quite happy with his original cut and had no plans of releasing a directors cut when he was approached (I agree, the original Alien is a masterpiece). He did take a second viewing of the movie, and in his words, he was surprised by some of his past cutting decisions, specifically regarding pace. So he did make a directors cut, and he included a scene where Ripley discovers her crew cocooned. Even with that extra scene, the whole movie is 1 minute shorter than the non DC cut. I can’t personally decide whether it’s monumentally better for it, we’re really talking apples and oranges here; my point is, Alien is so good it’s considered sacred on the same level 2001 is. And yet, the director himself, decided that it could be trimmed.

    Bottomline: just because a movie is great, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t possibly benefit from a trimming.

    So perhaps the question is, instead: are we in a day and age where directors simply can’t make good movies any more? Or is there really a trend towards longer movies? I’m leaning towards the latter, and the conspiracy theorist in my whispers there’s an explanation similar to why books are longer these days (which is because publishers pay by the page).

  4. In support of Michael and the “problem [being] with the movies, not solely with their length” that you mentioned:

    I think that prime example of this is Legend. When released in the US, the all powerful studios decided to cut the original European release from 114 minutes to 89 minutes in order to make it “more enjoyable” for their audience. This completely changed the tone of the film and threw out some rather critical character development. The later “Director’s Cut” released on DVD restores the original version, which is certainly one the greatest fantasy films of all time.

    To further illustrate my point, I highly recommend renting the DVD and watching both versions. They’re really two different films.

    Now, regarding upcoming films, I highly recommend that you spend an hour to digest the G.I. Joe Resolute webisodes. Warren Ellis has crafted a masterful, dark, and far more mature re-imagining of the campy Joes in a 60 minute web series. After watching the whole thing yesterday, I can’t see how The Rise of Cobra can possibly top it. Why? Because I just can’t see my self sitting through 135 minutes of G.I. Joe, live action or not. Why do we need both a 60 minute animated re-imagining and a 135 minute live action re-imagining? I don’t know, ask Hasbro. But, I have feeling that Resolute will be my favorite, simply because it tells an effective story with the Joes in a completely different light in only 60 minutes.

    So, I basically wrote all of that to say that some movies are just too long, but some are just right.

  5. In my opinion, 60-minute movie adaptations of most novels are just not possible. A case in point is The Golden Compass, which spans nearly two hours (113 minutes) but is still so horribly rushed that a plethora of crucial scenes were left out, including the entire last three chapters of the book. Not to mention that they completely removed the gore from the armored bear fight scene, which was just not cool.

    At any rate, I think the main issues here are not the length, but the pacing and screenwriting. Like others have mentioned above, the quality is the determining factor. Unfortunately, we’re seeing much less of it.

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