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Indiana Jones and the Cutting Room Floor

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Hollywood Elsewhere reports Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is locked and ready to roll (HT: Looking Closer Journal) with a running time of 140 minutes plus. That makes this the longest Indy adventure of the four.

Fan chatter likes to go back and forth over issues like this, but the running time indicates little except for, well, the length.

There was an interview Steven Spielberg gave some time ago where he said his cut of Raiders ran a little over two hours. Lucas trimmed it down to 115 minutes. The trims, Spielberg had said, covered mainly the opening approach to the Hovito idol, and the climax involving Belloq open the Ark. Spielberg had envisioned a grand operatic/special effects blowout. Lucas made it leaner, he said, and the film was better for it.

140 minutes might feel a long way from lean. But some stories require more time to develop, and the magic of making a longer film work sometimes depends what ends up on the cutting room floor.

The perception of time when watching a film is very elastic. Theater houses and studios prefer shorter running times for their films to allow them to play more times in a day, and thus, earn more dollars. Or so the thinking goes. Dances with Wolves, however, upset that paradigm for the first time in decades with its release in 1990.

Its theatrical cut runs about three hours, though a recent DVD release of an extended cut of the film allows audiences a look at what dir. Kevin Costner originally left out. The new cut pushes four hours, involving minor, more character defining subplots. And it’s a bloated mess.

James Cameron obliterated the paradigm with the success of Titanic, a film he previewed for test audiences three times before settling on the final cut. Among the first complaints he received about the film involved its length — 202 minutes. Only two of the 20 people pulled aside at the final preview said it was too long. His final cut lands only seven-and-a-half minutes shorter than the first one he screened.

While less is usually more, sometimes the opposite is true. The theatrical cut of The Abyss – another Cameron epic – runs about 140 minutes. It’s a decent cut, awkward in places, particularly the ending. The story itself doesn’t really fit into one mold. It’s an undersea adventure that’s part sci-fi, part love story, part Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cameron only previewed the film once. His audience had come indoors from a 110 degree heat wave to sit in a theater with a broken air conditioner and watch a film that pushed three hours. Feedback wasn’t exactly positive; as a result, Cameron cut 45 minutes out of the film.

In1992, Cameron went back and restored those 45 minutes on a laserdisc release. And the result is a far superior film. The middle and third acts find much greater context, especially the climactic moments involving one man’s selfless love standing in the gap for all humanity – a theme the original cut had excised completely.

A 140 minute running time takes Crystal Skull out of the typical Indiana Jones mold (the previous three installments have all kept to roughly the same length), but doesn’t bear any significance on the perceived strength of the film. Spielberg can handle a 140 minute picture. Take a gander at the trivia list over at IMDB – this film’s in good hands. I doubt it’ll disappoint.

(Quick note: many of the facts involving Titanic and The Abyss were pulled from Paula Parisi’s excellent book, Titanic and the Making of James Cameron, New York: Newmarket Press, 1998 )


Written by taj

April 17, 2008 at 8:05 pm

2 Responses

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  1. The trend to longer film the last decade has been fueled by directors with too much power a myopic view. I hate to say this but sometimes to producers have to stand up ans say something. Give the fan boys the bloated crap on the DVD


    April 17, 2008 at 8:11 pm

  2. Well directors have more room to push the films further I disagree with the fact that it’s to much power. Often one finds that the production house has more power financialy then anyone is aware of. I do think that some Directors have earned the right to expand on their films by proving they can work in a tighter leaner form while others simply do it because they are given the rope to do it.
    I disagree with giving it all to people on the DVD, that simply says I’m to lazy to build the story right the first time so now I have to put all this stuff back into it. I think DVD extra’s are great but thats just what they are extra’s. With DVD sizes increasing are you willing to sift through all the “crap” as you put it that they can insert on to the disc?
    For example I own all of the Lord of the Rings both the the directors cut and the studio versions. I have watched both but have only to date watched half of the extra stuff on the discs. I enjoy the Directors cut but don’t think every film needs one. It’s just as much of an art form to when to extend and when to cut something as it is to write, shot, edit ect.


    April 18, 2008 at 9:41 am

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