Tag Archives: The Return of the King

It’s All In The Pacing

Time is relative. Some scientist said that at some point. For my purposes, it means that one minute can seem longer or shorter depending on the context. That minute in traffic is far longer than that minute playing video games before work that got you stuck in traffic in the first place.

Naturally, this applies to stuff like movies too. A two hour movie can feel incredibly long or it can flash by in an instant. Why? Pacing. Pacing is important. Really important.

Let’s look at An Unexpected Journey. It’s a three hour movie but, unlike the prior The Lord of the Rings films, feels much longer. The simple reason for this is for lack of content: the film takes much to long repeating points. The run in with the rock giants, for example, is a lengthy sequence that adds nothing to the plot (except an extra action scene). Sure, there’s a small moment showing Thorin’s growing acceptance of Bilbo as part of the team, but that’s a beat that’s seen elsewhere. Sequences like these bog down a movie and draw it out. The Return of the King and the rest of the trilogy were bursting with story and characters: every scene added another layer to one or the other. Those films didn’t feel bogged down as every beat felt necessary to the movie at large.

Transformers: Age of Extinction feels overlong in a different way: there’s way too much going on. Though visually pleasing (as you’d expect from a Michael Bay film), it’s a narrative mess. There’s no clear antagonist antagonizing the heroes and, as such, the heroes have little plan thwarting to carry out. With no central throughline pushing the story along, the film winds up feeling like a series of vaguely connected misadventures involving giant robots. Which wouldn’t be so bad if we actually gave a crap about these characters but, this being a Michael Bay film, we really don’t. As such, it’s 165 minute runtime really starts to drag after a while.

Guillermo Del Toro, another purveyor of giant robots, had this to say about film lengths: “All I know is that as an audience member, my ass meter starts ringing its fire alarm after two hours.” Essentially, there’s a point where it starts to feel like you’ve spent too long sitting in that chair. If a long movie is paced well it won’t seem long at all, if it’s paced poorly it’ll feel even longer. That said, you’ll probably start to notice how long you’ve been there as the two hour mark fades behind you.

Take Del Toro’s own Pacific Rim as a great example of a well paced movie that doesn’t feel too long. Big set pieces are linked together through emotional beats: The opening and Gipsy Danger vs Knifehead leads to the introduction of Stacker and Raleigh’s arrival at the Shatterdome before we see Mako’s flashback which in turn gives us a quiet character focused chunk before the big battle around Hong Kong. We get another break as Newt and Gottlieb work out the secrets of the breach before the final confrontation. These lulls not only to allow us to get to know and love the characters, but also give us breathers between action scenes and make us long for the next one. Del Toro, ever conscious of the audience’s collective ass meter, ensures that neither character/plot progression or action scene ever outstays their welcome, rather they work together to keep the movie puttering along, keeping us entertained throughout.

The LEGO Movie opts to follow Campbell’s monomyth and wisely never spends longer than necessary on individual beats. Not only does this allow for the movie to move along at a nice slick pace, but it means that when it comes time for it to spend time on something really important — take the conversation between the father/son and Lord Business/Emmet — there’s leeway for it to sink in without slowing down the plot.

At 143 minutes, The Avengers is a comparatively long movie. But it does as Pacific Rim does, stringing together smaller character moments between bigger set pieces, yet never allowing any to last too long. Add that to a group of great characters who you’re happy just to watch hang out with each other and it’s easy to get lost in the movie. And getting lost is the best, because suddenly you forget about time and your ass meter and just enjoy the movie.

Movie runtimes are one thing, how long they actually feel is another entirely. Watching Sex and The City (151 minutes) for class felt like an eternity, whereas The Dark Knight (165) felt just right. Time is relative — especially when watching movies. That’s where pacing comes in.

Note: Of course it’s not all in the pacing, but it is terribly important. Sometimes, a fascinating subject matter and engrossing characters are all you need — see Lost in Translation. That said, this blog post assumes that’s understood

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Unawarded Merit

I love The Avengers. I’ve seen it five times (no regrets) and it’s probably my favorite movie in the last few years. If you follow this blog you’ve heard over and over again why I love it (great script, excellent direction, etc). The Avengers is a movie that shows how good not only a superhero movie can be, but a summer blockbuster. Yet for all that it won’t get an Oscar or any serious recognition.
 
Okay, so it may get an Oscar for Sound Editing or Visual Effects or one of those technical ones that these sorts of movies (y’know, Star Wars or The Dark Knight) tend to win. But to get Best Picture (Or Best Adapted Screenplay – which it most definitely deserves), well, it’s not happening.
 
For some reason, groups like the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences find that popcorn fare isn’t good enough to be bestowed with a title like Best Picture, they need their movies to be ‘better’. No, not better quality like how Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings is far better than Ralph Bakshi’s; better in the sense that Loki thinks that he’s better than humans (I swear I’ll get The Avengers out of my system eventually).
 
In other words, it’s got to be ‘art’.
 
But how do we define ‘art’? Why was The Return Of The King awarded Best Picture but The Dark Knight Rises passed over? Both were excellent adaptions of previous work, proving that their sources could be turned into legitimate movies of excellent quality. Where is the line of art drawn?
 
Could be scope. The Return of the King is about good triumphing over evil on the grandest level possible. But The Hurt Locker is comparatively tiny and still won Best Picture. Historical significance would make sense then (The Return of the King was adapted from the third best selling novel of all time). The Hurt Locker is about a controversial war and The King’s Speech about a king, um, giving a speech during a war. The Artist is a silent film and The Titanic about the titular ship.
 
The other route would be to go for something relevant or something that tugs at heart strings. Over recent years, the trend for award-winning movies has become borderline formulaic that videos have popped up on YouTube lampooning them. It’s not hard to know what sort of movies will win. Art has given way to predictability, quality to relevance.
 
So maybe it’s time to look beyond the Oscars and Golden Globes. Amazing stories can be found in movies ignored (500 Days of Summer) and mediums completely written off by the majority of mainstream media (The videogame Uncharted 3). Quality can be found in blockbuster summer movies (The Avengers).  Art doesn’t have to be pretentious.
 
Ultimately, an award is just an honorific paired with a shiny trophy and a measure of press. Years down the line the movies that stay in our consciousnesses aren’t always the award winners. Movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club have become iconic over the years though neither were anywhere near award winning. The Hurt Locker is already fading into obscurity whereas Avatar is still remembered.
 
Cult classics: that’s the name of these movies. They may not win the most glamorous awards but they remain favorites years and years down the line. I know they’re not always snubbed: sometimes The Return Of The King does take home Best Picture and ten other Oscars. But maybe cult classic-hood is the true measure of a film’s success. Crowdsourcing is the big thing these days, anyway.
 
It’s easy to say we’ll just disregard award ceremonies and strive to live life without them. I write all this but I can guarantee that come award season I’ll wait with bated breath to find out to the winners. But, even though a movie like Life of Pi will probably take home Best Picture, I’ll still know The Avengers was better.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized