I spend a very large majority of my life deciding what film to watch. I’ll stand/sit/crouch there, running my delicately soft, un-worked fingers over the spines of DVDS, scrolling with glazed-eyes through Netflix, browsing Google and silently screaming as my time runs out. As I perform this solo mating-dance, the precious hours I have put aside in my day for ‘leisure activities’ shrivel up like a scrotum on ice. This is because the ritual takes quite a while, for it is an extremely precise science, and sometimes a session will take so long, that by the time I have found something to watch, it is too late, and I am 86 years-old and/or dead.
So because of this, if, on the rare occasion, I do actually settle on a film, it must be of a reasonable length, because it is already midnight and I have work tomorrow. In essence: the movie must be 90 minutes long.
One hour and one half is the perfect length for a movie, and this is something I feel very strongly about, and not only because of the above reason. A plethora of reasons, all extremely important and worthy of your time. Please, actually please, listen - I am giving a correct opinion on the internet and everyone should listen.
Sit down to watch a film, and any time period over an hour and a half is flirting perilously close with disaster. Sure, I’ve watched films over this length before; I’ve even enjoyed them - The Dark Knight was two and a half hours long, and I loved every minute of it. But look, I’d have loved it just the same if it was 90 minutes - perhaps, I predict, even more.
It’s a risk settling down to watch a long movie; a risk I don’t ever fancy taking. You’re giving up a sizable chunk of your valuable time here, and what if there’s a twist at the end that ruins the film? That’s three whole hours you’ve wasted - three hours is two 90 minute films, in case you were wondering. Two for the time of one, you could have got away with. The film industry taking you for a mug, there.
Also, and this is entirely correct, no take-backs: 90 minutes is ample time to tell a story. Did you see any of The Hobbit films? Each of those could have been a sensible length - just take out all the walking, delete an ancillary character, have people talk less, it’s easy. No love lost. The audience would genuinely be grateful.
“Oh, but what about The Godfather?” You whine. “What about epics?” Quite simple, delete the third one entirely and spread the rest over three or four films. I’d rather watch three 90 minute films than two films that last over two hours. Reason being: you can decide exactly when to watch the next installment; you don’t have to watch it all in one go, like you have to with a single film.
There’s a proper, thought-out logic for this too, and it’s not a stupid one. If your film isn’t the fucking greatest cut of cinema ever committed to celluloid, then my attention is starting to wane after an hour and a half. In fact, even if your film is a top-drawer Oscar-contender (whatever that means), then you better bet that a myriad of distraction set pieces is about to occur after 90 mins, like:
- I’m picking up my damn phone and doing something on it, thereby further distracting myself from your film - you don’t want this
- I’m pausing it to go and force a piss or a shit out
- I’m having a nice big wa- a nice big wash
- I’ve gone to sleep. Your movie was too long and I’ve deigned an unconscious state preferable
- I have burst into flames because you have expected too much of me
But if the movie is a ‘normal’, me-approved length, then I feel no fatigue, no urge to distract myself, because I know I am approaching the end, which, if I’m lucky, will be the best bit. As such, that television in front of me will have my undivided attention until the credits roll. Only then will I pick up my phone or burst into flames or whatever.
Look though, I ain’t just some whining sack of ham, hooting down an ethernet wire like an ungrateful cuckoo - I can back up my screeching opinions with cold, hard science. I wanted to find out if it was actually just me - was I the only one who found it hard to give a toss once 90 minutes was up? Surely I wasn’t? There’s a reason why so many films are that length - it’s *the* film length, isn’t it? Why is that? Who decided it?
So I got in contact with chartered psychologist, Alan Redman, from The Criterion Partnership, to pick his brains (promised him it wouldn’t take over 90 minutes), and looky here - he backed up my theory, 100%:
“Our body’s waking and sleeping patterns are regulated by the ‘circadian rhythm’. This cycle runs over a 24 hour period and works with our brain and central nervous system; varying our body temperature, causing changes in our brain chemistry and determining the periods of the day when we’re asleep or awake.”
So far, so OK, yes, you are a professional, I will listen. But what really made me stand up and pat myself on the back, was this:
“Within this cycle we have a second, shorter rhythm - the ‘ultradian rhythm’. This runs over a 90 minute period within the 24 hour cycle of the circadian rhythm. The ultradian rhythm regulates sleep patterns during the night, and during the day governs our energy and attention levels.”
Yep, that’s right, there’s a ticking biological clock that specifically affects our attention span, and guess what, Peter Jackson, it’s 90 minutes long. After 90 minutes, we’re biologically wired to lose interest. Like, it’s actually engineered into our literal bodies - I’m not some absent-minded sloth, I’m just a human.
Alan also mentions that “peaks and troughs” can occur anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, so some people lose interest even quicker than me - I’m looking at you Michael Owen. And I feel your pain.
“If you want to hold someone’s concentration, you’ll probably find that if you go longer then 90 minutes you will hit one of their regular troughs. So any activity that requires sustained concentration should ideally be kept to within 90 minutes.”
Oh God this is music to my easily-distracted ears.
But you know what? It’s only going to get worse. The way things are going, movies will only get longer, and our attention spans will get shorter. Out of the top ten grossing movies so far in 2017, NINE of them are over two hours. Only one, Despicable Me 3 is under that, at a respectable one hour, 36 minutes. But that one’s for kids, who have even shorter attention spans than me - why can’t the adults have it the same way, too?
It doesn’t have to be this way - marathon run-times aren’t a prerequisite for box office numbers. Narrowly missing out on the top ten was Get Out, and guess what - it was under two hours, at a just-about-easily-digestible one hour, 44 minutes. Did you hear anyone complaining about the brevity of this one? No, it said all it needed to say in a succinct, impactful way - everybody loved it and it banged at the box office.
But as we shuffle closer to the edge of the analogue cliff, to finally plummet into a digital sea of ones and zeros, in a future that can’t exist without being plugged in somehow, it’s only going to get harder to concentrate.
Cast your mind back (if you can) to a time when you didn’t have a mobile phone, or at least a smartphone - how much easier was it to give a movie your full attention? As time pushes regrettably on, and more and more shiny gadgets and sparkly distractions are thrown into our pockets, eyes, faces, ears, arses; how hard will it be to concentrate, then? We’ll need Clockwork Orange-style blinkers to last more than five minutes.
Alan’s back, and he agrees:
“We are certainly exposed to more information and stimulus, which places a load on our processing capacity and resources; this will deplete energy levels more quickly and exacerbate the effects of our natural sleeping/waking rhythms.”
So as our bodies change with our environment, that 90 minute sweet-spot may soon be a 45 minute one. 45 minutes to focus on one thing, before we pack it in and start chasing the proverbial butterfly, in a world where movies are now five hours long. Everything is travelling in the opposite direction, and it’s horribly worrying.
But hey, I’ve got some good news, and a tentative solution - if there’s any solace to be found here, it’s in the straight-to-DVD market. Those films that skip the cinema and come crashing, explosion-ing to home video or streaming; the ones with fighting, stabbing, swearing, sexing - these are our saviours.
Just look: the last ten of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s films have all been under two hours, with over half sitting nice and comfortably around the 90 minute mark. This is great stuff, everybody - Van Damme, still banging out quality action flicks (genuinely), absolutely knowing his audience inside-out and giving them exactly what they want. Why do you need to go over two hours when you can get it all done in 90 minutes?
On the opposite end of the box office spectrum, you’ve got the Transformers movies, for example, with the last sequel’s diminishing returns proving that franchise fatigue has well and truly set in. I have seen all of them, but I skipped this last one just because, Christ, I can’t be bothered to sit through over THREE HOURS of robots punching each other. That’s mad, that is.
Why, after 90 minutes of robots punching each other, do you need all of that again? Save it for the next film. It’s too much. As much as I like Van Damme, even I couldn’t watch him kicking people, doing the splits and getting his arse out for three fucking hours. Keep it trim, keep me interested, nice and easy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - I only watch what I want to watch, nowadays. I’m too old to care what other people think of the movies I choose - as long as I’m having a good time watching Van Damme get his arse out, then everyone else can spin. And this life-stance is putting me perilously close to cutting two-hour-plus films off my radar entirely. I wouldn’t miss them, there would be no time spent lamenting the three-hour fantasy epics of my childhood - I would get a satisfied hard-on for the back of them.
So Hollywood, take note, if you please, and trim the fat. It’s needless, annoying, and it’s ruining my enjoyment of the movies, one of the last things I actually like. And just think about it, if you’ve chucked on a 90 minute banger on an evening, then you’ve freed up loads more time to go and do other fun things, like have a nice big wa - a nice big wash.