Lisa Live: Longing for Shorter Films

This weekend and next bring us two of the summer’s biggest blockbusters: “Superman Returns” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

I’m not a huge fan of action movies, but I was excited to see both. I did, and here are my decidedly anti-analytical, un-intellectual capsule reviews of each: “Superman,” so-so; “Pirates,” inventively fun.

I’m skipping all plot details because there’s a point I’d like to make about why both films fell short of my expectations: at two-and-a-half hours each, they’re too freakin’ long.

To my mind, if a director’s going to ask us to take more than three hours out of our lives to see a film (let’s include travel time, popcorn, etc.), we'd better get something that doesn’t have our minds wandering about the things we should have done before getting there — or the stuff we’ve got to do once gone.

Some filmmakers consider long movies a public service — the “more bang for your buck” theory, in an age when a night at the multiplex is no longer an inexpensive proposition. But we all know that quantity does not equal quality, and our two biggest summer blockbusters are testament to that.

I certainly believe in escapism and relaxation — long baths, unhurried vacations, you name it —but a film of epic length has to deliver the goods. If not it’s a total imposition, a director’s flight of fancy at the expense of many families with two working parents, multi-tasking at every turn.

Some examples of other recent films that should have been snipped: “King Kong” (the interminable “Jurassic Park”-like chase scene had me wondering, “Where’s the monkey?”), “The Aviator,” “Cold Mountain” and this summer’s “The Da Vinci Code.”

Granted, it’s not like long movies — even less than stellar ones — don’t make money. Most have so much built-in buzz that folks turn out to see them in droves.

And some are downright awesome. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and particularly the three-hour, Oscar-winning third installment, went by in a breathtaking blip.

But why is it that there are more long movies than necessary? Some possibilities:

1) Successful, powerful directors (Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg) are often allowed “final cut” of their films. With no one at the studios to rein them in, it’s “Hands off my masterpiece!”

2) Much of a film’s budget is recouped from DVD sales and rentals, and as a result filmmakers are forced to provide exclusive “DVD extras,” i.e., scenes that didn’t make the final cut. This may make directors “shoot-happy” to ensure extra footage, some of which may unfortunately make its way into the film.

3) Many movies of epic length use computer generated imagery (or CGI). This is costly. There could be a mentality at work that says, “If we’re gonna go ahead and spend the money to use CGI, let’s really use it!” The result is often a painfully long creature chase scene. (See “King Kong” example above.)

4) A lengthy film is deemed an “important film.” Who doesn’t want to feel his (and directors are mainly men) isn’t the most important film of the year?

As far as “Superman Returns” goes, the pace is plodding, and there’s absolutely no spark between Superman (Brandon Routh) and Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). But if you can get to an IMAX theater, I would recommend seeing it for the 20 minutes that are shot in 3D (yes, the goofy glasses are worth it). Oh, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor is terrific, while his sniffling sidekick, played by Parker Posey, steals the film.

And as for “Pirates,” the opening chase scene is creative, captivating and hilarious. Johnny Depp is fairly brilliant as usual, and the costumes — both real and CGI — are amazing. It’s a fantastic two-hour film. What a shame it’s two-and-a-half.