It’s too bad for film critics that they don’t draw an hourly wage, what with the recent spate of reeeeeaaaalllly looooong movies.
“There is one story and one story only/That will prove worth your telling,” wrote Robert Graves in “To Juan at the Winter Solstice,” and Hollywood movies over the holiday season prove that directors are taking their sweet time when unraveling what is essentially that same story over and over again.
This may make for the perception that lengthy epics are somehow more important than the standard 110-minute flick, but the reality is that supersized movies (two hours and, sometimes, much, much longer) are bum-numbingly self-indulgent when the audience already knows where they’re going. For example [spoiler alert, sort of], we know Django’s gonna ride off into the sunset with his best gal; the Hobbit’s gotta survive for two more insufferably long installments; that lovably wacky and handsome couple in This Is 40 are gonna somehow weather the storm; and Javert’s gonna go for a swim near the end of Les Miserables.
So why take so long getting us there? None of the above-mentioned films was directed by David Lean, a guy who knew a little something about pacing when it came to epics.
Word to Peter Jackson: It takes less than three hours to read the entire The Hobbit, but it takes you three hours just to tell the first six chapters. The Hobbit seemed to this viewer the best-paced of the lot reviewed here, but there was also the sense of been there, done that from three grueling, super-long films in the Lord of the Rings series—the last one which featured at least five endings.
Memo to Tarantino: Your film’s good but could’ve easily been trimmed by 20 or more minutes. Save some of the footage you shot out of your OCD love of off-beat films for the DVD director’s cut. And, yes, the liberal body count and use of a certain racial epithet could’ve been curtailed significantly without rendering harm to your “artistic vision.”
Tip to Apatow: Whining, narcissistic middle-agers are no more entertaining than whining, narcissistic adolescents and young adults. You could’ve easily trimmed some of the pointless subplots of This Is 40—we already know Megan Fox has a smokin’ bod and her presence serves mainly as a distraction; and Graham Parker’s presence just makes him look uncomfortable—to present a more focused comedy about a marriage beset upon by selfish parents (Albert Brooks and John Lithgow) and the downfalls of leaving secure employment to follow one’s dreams.
Never has Brooks been more unlikeable on screen, but perhaps this is due to the fact his character has accepted $80,000 in “loans” from his son (Paul Rudd), which could’ve provided a more pithy observation on Social Security’s downfalls and the even greater debt Rudd’s generation will saddle subsequent generations with as a result of runaway government spending.
And, to Tom Hooper: To paraphrase Graves, there seems to be one melody and one melody only in your version of Les Miserables. Since your musical cuts out important plot points from the Victor Hugo’s source material in the service of the songs, perhaps you could’ve cut one or two of the songs to relieve the burden on theater-goers’ tushies, which in true Jean Valjean-style seemed only too eager to free themselves from the Javert-like oppression of an overlong spectacle.
Halfway through a matinee of the film this reviewer, too, had a dream. It went something along the lines of seeing daylight once again, knocking back a few shots and watching a DVR of the 1935 version with Charles Laughton and Frederick March. No songs (however ably sung), just plot and great character development.
Bruce Edward Walker is arts and culture critic for The Michigan View, where an earlier version of this article appeared. Republished with permission.