I haven’t seen Interstellar. I also haven’t seen Boyhood. But I cut out early from work on the Friday Godzilla opened and saw the first show of the day. It’s not that I don’t like movies that are bold or challenging or likely to win awards (in categories other than Sound Effects Editing). It’s that Godzilla was a zippy 123 minutes long, making the decision to see it an easy one. Whereas a movie theater filled with strangers who may or may not know how to behave themselves is not someplace I’d like to spend anything like three hours.
Obscenely long movies are not a new phenomenon, obviously: the likes of Doctor Zhivago (a Best Picture Oscar nominee) and Gandhi (winner) are both more than three hours long, and the annals of awards-bait-y movies are groaning with other examples. The Wolf Of Wall Street, for instance – one of last year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees – clocks in at 180 minutes on the dot, which feels like an intentional attempt to demonstrate restraint, unlike Zhivago’s irresponsible 17-minutes-longer runtime.
But now even genre movies, rated PG-13 and pitched primarily at teenagers, are showing the same kind of bloat. This year alone, Divergent was 139 minutes; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was 142. (And while the new Hunger Games movie is a mere 123 minutes, let’s not forget that it’s Mockingjay — *Part 1**. Now all film franchises based on book series just go ahead and make that cash grab of splitting the final film into two parts because we all let it happen. In fact, in light of the *three-part film adaptation of The Hobbit, and the fact that Warner Bros. is turning The Stand into four movies, making Mockingjay a mere two-parter seems like positively economical storytelling.)
The point is: even when you think you’re safe, since the movie you’re planning to see is based on a toy or a comic book or something else meant for children, you can get the nasty surprise of a long sit that’s fundamentally incompatible with the large beverage you were upsold before you had all the facts.
That’s why I think the time has come for consumers to be fully informed when we’re making our moviegoing decisions. The MPAA has judged that, say, it’s important enough for us to know if there’s going to be violence, sex, or coarse language that all those things must be disclosed via an R rating in a movie’s print and TV advertising. I propose that the MPAA also add an L rating for when movies are more than 135 minutes long. In fact, maybe even several L ratings, as with PG: L-150, L-165, and the dreaded L-180+.
We’ve already seen how the threat of lost business due to an MPAA rating that narrows the audience has affected the filmmaking landscape. Granted, it has changed it for the worse, as action movies have to cut their kills and/or perpetrate them only on robots or something, and no, I haven’t forgiven OR forgotten, Iron Man 2. But if the threat of getting slapped with an L-165 rating and thus losing business causes a director to make some judicious cuts, everyone wins. The notion that more movie means a better movie has led too many directors to be self-indulgent with their runtimes — and not just filmmakers: even Michael Bay. (Transformers: Age Of Extinction? 165 minutes.)
Ask yourself this: Have you ever watched a two-hour movie and wished it was longer?
That said, I’m not insensitive to market concerns. I don’t want movies that have a good reason for their prodigious length — like Boyhood — to take an L rating as a box office death sentence. And that’s why I propose that an L rating get opportunity built into it: every movie that earns an L rating automatically be scheduled for release simultaneously in theaters and on VOD.
At home, in our comfortable living rooms (or beds), we think nothing of spending five or ten or thirteen consecutive hours watching an entire season of a TV show. We can put our feet up on the furniture without getting dirty looks; heckle the screen without getting kicked out; and pause the show whenever we need to pee or get more snacks. Not to take anything away from the cinema experience, which I still treasure, but my 60-inch TV looks about as big and its images just as crisp from my couch as any movie screen does from my seat in a theater. I’d be a lot more willing to watch long-ass movies when they come out if I could do it without having to put on a bra.
Movie studios aren’t going to mandate shorter films until there’s an incentive for them to do so. My solution might seem radical until you consider how pleasant it would be to watch Interstellar this Saturday afternoon, in your pajama pants, with a plate of Indian food. Let’s line up behind my awesome idea and help the MPAA do some good for a change!