I should begin by noting that there is no way I’m going to see this movie, unless I’m in the hospital, it’s on TV and my best alternatives are “Ellen” and Don Lemon. I’m sick of CGI movies, sick of super-hero movies, and have never been enamored of the genre since Christopher Reeve took Margot Kidder flying. As for this particular super-hero movie, the fact that it is 3-hours is a minor problem, overwhelmed by the fact that I would have to watch the previous long Avengers movie, “Infinity War” to have a prayer of knowing what the hell’s going on.
However, many fans of such films are annoyed by the fact that “End Game” is so long yet has no intermission. They should be. One should be able to see the entertainment one has paid for without having to miss a chunk because nature calls. Movies don’t have intermissions any more, but that doesn’t mean there’s a good reason for them not to.
A New York Times article about the mini-controversy suggests that intermissions are old-fashioned, like phone booths or not saying “fuck.” No, three-hour movies are old-fashioned, if you want to think that way. We are told over and over that technology is training us to have the attention span of kittens, and indeed the running times of Hollywood major releases have been declining. In addition, a three-hour comic book movie is like a two-volume Bazooka Joe bubble gum comic. It demands special accommodations. (And an IQ of 24 to get excited about, but never mind.)
Disney-Marvel, however, refused to offer the film with an intermission. There’s no artistic reason to refuse: all it takes is scripting the film to have a climax or reasonable dramatic break in the middle. There are benefits of allowing audiences to get up and talk. They can sometimes clear up plot confusion among them, an especially useful pause with these assaultive monsters with dozens of characters wearing masks, particularly if one has missed some of the 22 —Twenty two!–Marvel films that led up to “End Game,” which is to say “if one has a life,” some mid-movie annotation might make the second half comprehensible. And, of course, people buy refreshments during intermissions, which adds to the theater’s profit.
Yet, we are told, it’s money, and only money, that is the rub. To hell with the fact that sitting for three hours is uncomfortable for many and impossible for some, the added 10-15 minutes would make scheduling tougher, and require fewer showings. This film is selling out at a record pace—take me now, Lord—and fewer showings means lost revenue that can’t be made up with sales of 4 buck cokes and 3 buck boxes of candy.
Too bad; that’s no excuse. The industry is the entertainment industry, and it has an obligation to make the entertainment experience entertaining, not an ordeal or an endurance contest. I’m an unshakable ally of artists who feel that three hours or more are necessary to tell their stories the right way; I fought to present long plays and musicals constantly during my 20 years as a theater artistic director. I’ve also sat through many 90 minute plays and movies that felt like a month in Cleveland, and others twice as long that seemed too short. The theater, however, has intermissions. Then again, most super-hero movie fanatics think live theater is old-fashioned. Most of them have never seen a professional stage play, and never will.
I’m digressing again. Sorry.
There was a brief period in the late Sixties and Seventies when Broadway experimented with intermission-less shows, led by musicals like “Man of La Mancha” and “Follies.” The conceit in “Follies” was that the action took place in “real time” at a reunion, so the dramatic tension would be dissipated if the story was interrupted. But “Follies” is a long show, though a magnificent one, and its original run lost money. Eventually, the no intermission experiment was deemed a failure.
When “Follies” is produced today, there is an intermission.
Baseball has been dealing with a related problem. Baseball games used to average two-and-a-half hours. Now the games average three hours or more, and the added length is all dead time—pitchers taking too long between pitches, managers changing pitchers like the Kardashians change boy friends, batters stepping out of the batters box for no discernible reason. The biggest culprit in adding time to games, though, is TV ads. Now that every game is televised, the breaks between innings are a minute or more longer than they were before cable. There are 21 inning and mid-inning breaks in a baseball game: that’s 21 minutes right there. Making the breaks shorter means less ad revenue, but MLB decided to be responsible–baseball is entertainment too—and take the hit in the interest of its fans. This season, inning and half-inning breaks are 30 seconds shorter.
Ethics note to Hollywood: either have intermissions, or make shorter movies.