Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Cosmos and the problem of 2-hour movies


A couple of days ago I watched a recent, enjoyable and worthwhile, ultra-low budget movie called Cosmos (2019). At the end I thought, as I have thought scores of times before: "That was a good movie, but it would have been a really good movie if it was half-an-hour shorter."

I can't be bothered to do the research; but I would guess that a much higher proportion of the very best movies are around 90 minutes than clock-in at two-plus hours. Clearly, it is easier, more natural to construct a good movie at the shorter length.

I must say, I find it hard to understand why so many movies end-up too long. So obviously too long - such that almost any audience member could tell the maker where the cuts could and should be applied.

My main theory is that good editors are rare, and/or that the editor is given too low a status in devising the final cut. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that 'director's cut' movies are almost always worse; which suggests that editors make a vital input to quality (albeit director's cuts are only done for already-successful films; and this may tend towards meddling with the final product being a case of 'the only way is down').

Considering how vital is the art of editing to the success of a movie; it is striking that the public don't know the names of the best film editors, in the way we know the best directors, writers and actors.

But the difference editing makes can be seen between the first and third movies of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings - which are superbly edited - and the Two Towers movie, which is much less-well edited. This is something like a controlled experiment; in that the other key members of the production 'team' were unchanged, and the editor was the major difference.

Another suspicion is related to stars demanding a certain minimum amount of screen time (as when the first Batman revival movie (1989) was structurally spoiled and the impact diminished by an over-extended final scene with Jack Nicholson's Joker).

Or, it may simply be that the film makers get too attached to particular scenes, and cannot see that they are making the movie as a whole worse.  

Anyway, I am confident that if all 2 hour movies were forcibly subjected to a skilled and insightful re-editing down to half an hour shorter; nearly all of them would be improved significantly.