Quality filmmaking isn’t just about what footage you put up on the screen — it’s what you choose not to put up there. Sometimes too much of a good thing can be just as frustrating as too little. Which is why a tight script and an experienced editor will always be a director’s best friend. Unfortunately, the following movies were made in defiance of this age-old advice. And believe me, they all suffered the consequences in their own ways…
Jackie Brown (154 mins.)
Quentin Tarantino’s views on movie length have always been at odds with, you know, society’s. At least when it comes to his own creations. And although none of Q’s flicks will be accused of anything resembling brevity, this one remains the worst offender by far. Spinning the yarn of a flight attendant hoping to swipe a half million dollars, Jackie Brown wallows in stakes simply not high enough to warrant two hours and 34 minutes of screen time. Worse still, we poor, unsuspecting viewers are eventually subjected to the same ‘bag switcheroo at the department store’ scene over and over again, from various characters’ POVs (with precious little payoff, btw). I honestly haven’t spent this much time at the shopping mall since I was fifteen.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (132 mins.)
Sometimes a ‘lengthy’ film’s problems have little to do with its run-time. At two hours and 12 minutes, the first installment of the hit-and-miss Star Trek movie franchise isn’t obscenely long — it just feels that way. A key culprit here is the excruciatingly drawn out set-up. With their film hitting theatres a full decade after the original series concluded, Paramount Pictures and director Robert Wise clearly wanted to give the stars their due. Which means the entire first act is little more than a series of cast re-introductions. “Hey, it’s Spock! What’s he been up to? And look, there’s crotchety old McCoy! Let’s follow him around for a while!” And so on and so forth, with every. Single. Character. Couple this with impossibly long exterior shots of ships docking and space looking all pretty, and it’s no wonder you’ll want to take a Learning Annex editing course and cut this sucker down to size. Also, the bad guy turns out to be an old NASA probe that’s come to life — a ham-fisted reveal we can all agree should have been cut too.
The Matrix Reloaded (138 mins.)
What made the original Matrix film an instant classic was its pitch-perfect balance of suspense, action and mythology. Put another way: it messed with your mind as it kung-fued your body. Sadly, the long-awaited follow-up achieved just the opposite. Replace ‘mythology’ with ‘confusing techno-babble,’ ‘action’ with ‘sensory overload,’ and ‘suspense’ with ‘long, pointless set pieces’ (that Zion rave scene, anyone?). Basically, The Matrix Reloaded sees our beloved franchise crawling up its own arse, and the end result, as you might expect with such a contortion, ain’t too pretty. Ponderous, navel gazey and remarkably flat, this film will make you want to reconnect those firewire cables and crawl back into your fetus pod.
2001: A Space Odyssey (161 mins.)
Sure, it’s a visually stunning cinematic classic with groundbreaking special effects. But it’s wayyyyyy toooooooo freakinnnnnnnnnnn’ lonnnnnnnnng. And not because Stanley Kubrick had too many brilliant things to cram in there. 2001: A Space Odyssey could be perfectly told in an hour and forty-five minutes, without rushing any of the story beats, dialogue or character development. There’s an age-old rule of cinema the Kube chose to blatantly disregard: begin each scene as late as possible, then end each one as early as possible. Hey Stanley: to establish the fact humans evolved from apes, you don’t need to give us thirty minutes of primitive monkey men eating, sleeping, fighting and pooping.
King Kong (187 mins.)
The story of King King is so incredibly taut, I can tell it as a haiku:
Monkey gets captured
Steals girl, climbs building, goes splat
Beauty killed the beast
Which begs the question: why is Peter Jackson’s 2005 update a full 87 minutes longer than the 1933 original? Simply put, it’s because he’s Peter Jackson, and my man loves when stuff overstays its welcome (“Adapt Tolkien’s 300-page novel The Hobbit into three feature-length movies? Sure!”). Less is most certainly more, and believe me, viewers needed much, much less of this bloated tale of oversized simian lust. Here’s a filmmaking tip for you budding directors out there: when possible, try and have your title character appear within the first seventy minutes of screen time. Just a thought.