With attention spans decreasing, Sarah O’Byrne asks if films should be shortened too.
We have all been sitting in a cinema just waiting for a film to end at one time or another. Having paid the hefty admission fee, we refuse to give in to this sunken cost by leaving early. Some films are just too long, there is no escaping the fact. The director may have felt that they needed that extra hour to really explore the characters, but more often than not, there are scenes that take away from the audience’s enjoyment instead of adding to it.
The world has become increasingly obsessed with shorter videos, much like shorter news articles and books. Short videos clog up our Facebook and Instagram feed, many of which are versions of teenagers performing some weird rushed form of 60-second slapstick comedy. There is a reason it takes time to make a funny film. Facebook videos are advised to be one minute long, and YouTube videos rarely exceed the ten-minute mark. This is to maintain our attention. Films, however, are usually at least an hour and a half long.
Is our attention span so short that we can only comprehend material if it’s presented in under 10 seconds?
Is our attention span so short that we can only comprehend material if it’s presented in under 10 seconds? This need for fast entertainment is encouraged from childhood; kids shows are forced to cut the length of their scenes to keep kids watching. A study showed that on average a scene from SpongeBob SquarePants will last just eleven seconds.
In the 1950s, the average shot length was longer, His Girl Friday has an average shot length of about 15 seconds. This has been shortened to under five seconds in contemporary cinema. Michal Bay’s Transformers films have an average of 3 seconds per shot. A video on YouTube appropriately entitled ‘Bryan Mills Jumps a Fence’ shows how the editing crew of Taken used 15 shots to depict Liam Neeson literally jumping over a fence. This technique gives the effect of fast-paced action opposed to an elderly man struggling over a four-foot obstacle.
Some say these shorter clips are popular because of our shrinking capacity to focus on one thing for too long. An article in the Telegraph in 2015 entitled ‘Humans Have a Shorter Attention Span than Goldfish, Thanks to Smartphones,’ blamed technology. The article claimed that “the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.” That’s quite worrying.
With this in mind, why are films getting longer? Films will occasionally use length to challenge an audience. Some films, such as Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour-long Holocaust documentary, gain notoriety because of their runtime, but the length of a film should not be a deterrent for someone from seeing the film. Some of the most successful films of all time far surpass the hour and the thirty-minute mark, and for good reasons too. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather clocks in at two hours and fifty-eight minutes and Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind’s running time is three hours and fifty-eight minutes. That being said, a film doesn’t need to be long to be considered a great film. Fans of Toy Story (81 minutes) and The Kid (68 minutes) might agree.
With the rise of film adaptations, some will argue that a film must be lengthy if it is to accurately represent the book on which it is based. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the highest grossing film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it is a staggering four hours and ten minutes long. If a film is good enough, people will watch it no matter the length.
Some will argue that a film must be lengthy if it is to accurately represent the book on which it is based.
It is easy to look down on short Facebook or Instagram videos and deny their right to be considered forms of film. However, this new medium is not necessarily inferior; any new or experimental form of film should be encouraged. Vine first became popular because it offered a new and inventive form of filmmaking. It could be argued that these 60-second skits are the first steps towards ‘real’ filmmaking, i.e. the feature-length film. Basically, anything that encourages young people to make films and be creative is a good thing.
Ultimately, films are not too long. Feature films have been hitting the ninety-minute mark since the 1950s and it does not appear to deter audiences. People are capable of enjoying short sketches as well as three-hour long epics. If you can’t sit through a two-hour movie without dozing off or leaving, you’re just watching the wrong film.