Today, class, let’s talk about length.
I have a problem with excessive length…
Okay, get the giggling over with. I’ll wait.
I am, of course, talking about books. And films. And TV series.
I recently read a book, a crime thriller, that ran to 600 pages. It’s not that uncommon.
Now, I was in two minds whether or not to read it. I’m firmly of the opinion that you cannot sustain a thriller of that length unless you have a sustainable plot, can turn a great phrase, can create characters that you care about (or want to see punished) and have an ear for deft dialogue.
Or if you’re Dennis Lehane. His ‘The Given Day’ was a whopping 700 pages and I loved them all.
I had problems with the particular book I was reading, until I told myself that I wasn’t reading a crime novel, I was reading one of those bestsellers you used to see turned into mini series. The book and I got along just peachy from that point on. I didn’t skim too many pages while muttering ‘just get on with it…’
Remember, I was weaned on the works of Ed McBain, which was very much kick the door in, get the job done, get out through the window.
Most of the earlier books were less than 200 pages long but did I feel I wasn’t getting value for money?
I’m not criticising anyone here. If your book has to be 150,000 words long then it has to be. Just make sure you have the material to justify it because if I start skimming whole batches of pages, then you’ve lost me.
The same works for film.
There has been a tendency of late to extend running time, as if coming in close to three hours is some stamp of quality, a sign that the film maker is making something relevant.
For my money, both ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Bladerunner 2049’ would have benefitted from losing around thirty minutes.
I think Steven Spielberg once said that you should be able to tell your story in two hours. He’s broken that rule of late but I think it is valid.
Some films have to be long, though. I’m thinking ‘The Godfather’ here. I’m thinking ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. I’m thinking ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘How The West Was Won.’ Big films, that need an intermission and a cushion for your bum and a sook of a Kia-Ora to keep you going.
I think this true, particularly in TV.
Let’s look at ‘Westworld’, for instance.
It began as a tight, taut science fiction movie, written and directed by Michael Crichton. Last year it became a TV series and darn good it was – and in many ways still is.
But here’s the thing…
To my mind, it’s tying itself in knots in the second series trying to be clever. It keeps reinventing its story line so that it always seems to be beginning again.
That may not seem like a bad thing, keeping us guessing and always on the wrong foot, but sooner or later they will have to pull the strands together.
Now, there’s a lot of smart people working on this and I’m confident they know where it’s going.
But I said that about ‘Lost’… and look what happened there.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not carping. I’m merely stating an opinion. For the record, I think it’s a clever, extremely well made show with great performances. And I love the western angle.
One of the many good things about such series is that they are comparatively short, around 10 weeks, while US network shows last up to 24 weeks. British dramas have always had shorter runs.
It’s possible my attention span is growing shorter as I grow older but I find it hard to stay with something for 24 weeks now, unless it’s ‘Gotham’, which for some reason has really caught me. Perhaps because, unlike so many other dramas, it doesn’t take itself seriously.
Even my old favourite ‘NCIS’ is outstaying its welcome. But I miss Ziva. (If you’ve never seen it, you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about).
I’ll end this lecture now.
Wouldn’t want it going on too long.