Monday, December 29, 2003

Bring Back the Intermission!

Hi-De-Ho Rene,

So, I've now seen The Return of the King twice, once with my sister, who had been awaiting its arrival as eagerly as I, and once with a date, who had not.

I enjoyed it immensely both times, but I also was acutely aware of how long the film is. The first time I saw it, I was battling a cold, so I had bought a drink to help deal with any nascent coughing fits. It worked, but it also made me need to leave to use the restroom, which I don't think I've EVER done before during a movie (not even during Gettysburg or the re-release of Gone With the Wind, both of which clock in longer than ROTK, but I'll get to why later). The second time, this weekend, the sighs and shifting coming from the seat next to me provided reliable evidence that non-Tolkien-junkies might find a 3 hour, 21 minute movie just a bit too long.

We'll post more on the merits of the film and the trilogy later -- I'm working up a list of criteria for rating The Lord of the Rings against the Godfather, Matrix, and original Star Wars trilogies -- but what I want to rail on today is how long we are expected to sit still for the privilege of seeing a blockbuster movie.

Is it really necessary, before a 201-minute movie, to show EIGHT previews? And when exactly did all those long, theatrically produced soft drink and automobile commercials get their noses under the tent? For both showings of The Return of the King, I sat in the dark for 3 hours and 45 minutes. Sure, I was entertained, but only after being highly annoyed for the first 20+ minutes both times.

Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, movies came packaged with short films, newsreels, and cartoons, and sometimes on a double feature, so maybe I'm just demonstrating that I share the short attention span of the modern age. But back then, the extra stuff was entertainment too, not pure junk advertising. And most movies, though certainly not all, were much shorter. A sampling of great films and their lengths:

Duck Soup, 70 minutes
City Lights, 87 minutes
The Wizard of Oz, 101 minutes
The Maltese Falcon, 101 minutes
Casablanca, 102 minutes
Singin' in the Rain, 103 minutes
Psycho, 109 minutes
Citizen Kane, 119 minutes
The Searchers, 120 minutes
Star Wars, 121 minutes
Jaws, 124 minutes
The Grapes of Wrath, 128 minutes
The Godfather, 175 minutes
Gone With the Wind, 238 minutes

Gone With the Wind, of course, was released with an intermission, as were longish MGM musicals such as the 170-minute My Fair Lady, and David Lean epics such as the 197-minute Dr. Zhivago and the 216-minute Lawrence of Arabia.

So what ever happened to intermissions? More recently, the 261-minute Gettyburg and the 231-minute Gods and Generals, which I haven't seen, both featured intermissions, but why don't other bladder-testers in the vein of Dances With Wolves, Titanic, and anything by Oliver Stone?

I say we should petition Hollywood to insert intermissions -- voluntarily, of course, like the ratings system -- into any film at least three hours long. Everyone would be much more comfortable, the theaters would sell more concessions, and directors would be challenged to make their films interesting enough for people to go back into the theater after intermission. It's a win-win scenario, don't you think?



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