Pioneering you can use the funny ‘whodunnit’ See How They Run not mention. Still, the film felt like a breath of fresh air when I saw it in the cinema on a rainy Sunday. See How They Run is one of those solid three-ball movies that you don’t see very often anymore. Charming actors, good joke density, a reasonably well-rounded mystery and above all: a relatively short running time. After 98 minutes you are done. “Sometimes you feel like haute cuisine and sometimes a simple pasta”, concluded my girlfriend afterwards in the pub. There was drink time we wouldn’t have after yet another bloated blockbuster (hello there, Jurassic World Dominion).
I was a bit shocked that same day when I read about the playing time of Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)the latest epic by Oscar magnet Alejandro Iñárritu (birdman, The Revenant). Visitors to the Venice Film Festival were shown a film of no less than 174 minutes. The buzz afterwards: partly impressive, but far too long. Iñárritu went back into the editing room and took 22 minutes off. “I tightened the film little by little,” he told the site indie wire. Still, he defended the playing time. “I’ve seen 80-minute movies that are too long,” he said. “Or three and a half hours and not too long at all.”
The conversations about length also apply to the TV world. Streaming services have given series creators fewer time restrictions and even encouraged to make stories longer. In addition, film scripts are increasingly being converted into miniseries, because they sell better these days. The successful miniseries The Queen’s Gambit is a well-known example of this. Or think about Obi-Wan Kenobia Star Warsseries that started as a screenplay. A miniseries simply yields more ‘watching minutes’ than a movie, something that the streamers love. Sometimes that extra time gives room for character development and beautiful moments that are not driven by plot. Too often it’s no more than filler.
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Even while watching the entertaining thriller series The Old Man with Jeff Bridges I got that feeling. The series, which can be seen in the Netherlands from this Wednesday, is worth watching because of the play of the growling Bridges. Unfortunately, almost every episode feels ten minutes too long. The makers are not nearly as big as the team of Stranger Things, that last season only poured out long episodes over the viewers. The season finale even lasted 150 minutes.
You can therefore understand why film director James Cameron does not care much about complaints about the length of his productions. His long-awaited sequel to science fiction hit Avatar will finally be released in December and will last about three hours. But please don’t whine about it, he told magazine Empire: “I don’t want to hear from anyone about the length when they can binge watch TV for eight hours.” Fortunately, Cameron gives us permission to visit the toilet in the cinema: “It’s okay to get up and go pee.” I reserve a spot in the aisle in advance.
Thijs Schrik is a film and series critic.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 28, 2022