MOVIES, BOOKS, AND CDS NOW CLOCK IN AT EPIC LENGTHS. WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?
Forget what women’s magazines are always reassuring men. This year, size counts-in every form of entertainment, especially films. Consider: The Firm runs 2 hours and 33 minutes, unusually long for a legal thriller, even one starring Tom Cruise. Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, based on the stories of Raymond Carver and due this fall, clocks in at 3 hours and 9 minutes. Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama scheduled for release later this year, is expected to run 3 hours. And Ted Turner plans a condensed theatrical version of Gettysburg, a 6-hour, 3-part dramatization of the Civil War battle for his TNT network. While megamovies are the most visible part of the more-is-more trend, they are by no means alone. Growing pains can be felt in every field: *BOOKS: A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth’s novel of 1950s India, is one of the most talked-about books of the year, but at 1,349 pages, it’s not likely to be tucked into many canvas beach bags. David Halberstam’s The Fifties, an exploration of the Ozzie and Harriet decade, weighs in at 800 pages; Gore Vidal’s United States: Essays 1952-1992, 1,295 pages. *TELEVISION: Stephen King’s The Stand, an 8-hour ABC miniseries based on the post-doomsday novel, airing next year, will be the longest miniseries since CBS’ Lonesome Dove. A 6-hour third installment of North and South and a 6-hour sequel to The Thorn Birds are also planned for 1994. *MUSIC: Janet Jackson’s latest album, janet., contains 27 cuts; though a dozen are snippets of breathless conversations or coos that last no more than a few seconds, there are 15 full-length, equally breathy songs totaling 76 minutes. And record stores continue to pack in scale-tipping CD collections; coming soon: The Best of Jethro Tull: 25th Anniversary on four CDs, and Diana Ross’ career compilation, Forever, Diana, featuring 80 songs and a 96-page booklet. *THEATER: Angels in America, the chilling, Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway sensation, lasts 31 2 hours (and that’s only Part 1). It will be joined on Broadway in November by the six-hour drama Kentucky Cycle. *VIDEO: Sarafina! has just been released on laserdisc with 15 extra minutes. And a new version of JFK, Oliver Stone’s already-3-hour-and-9-minute film, is now out on video-with 17 additional minutes of footage. Such excess is leaving many exhausted consumers asking: What ever happened to ”cut”? ”I didn’t set out to make a 21 2-hour movie,” says Sydney Pollack, who produced and directed The Firm. ”It’s not like cabbage. You can’t say, ‘I need three quarters of a pound.’ You’re trying to tell a story.” Pollack points out that his 1985 film Out of Africa took 2 hours and 41 minutes to make its Oscar-winning point. Though long movies are nothing new (1939’s Gone With the Wind, for example, ran 3 hours and 42 minutes), they used to be very notable exceptions. After all, a time-consuming film costs a studio more money to make and can lower the box office take since it can’t be shown as many times a day. But the success of 1990’s Dances With Wolves seemed to change all that. If moviegoers would put up with 3 hours and 1 minute of Kevin Costner in buckskin, they could sit through anything. And while there was some critical grousing last winter about seemingly endless movies like Scent of a Woman (2 hours and 37 minutes) and Malcolm X (3 hours and 21 minutes), the trend is, well, growing. ”I think you’re seeing longer films because more of them have been successful,” says Altman, who decided in preproduction to cut three stories and five characters from the anthology Short Cuts and now regrets it. ”When you have a kid and he’s seven feet tall,” says Altman, ”you don’t cut his feet or his head off, do you? You buy him a new bed and hope he can play basketball.” But how tolerant of that child would a studio be if his dad had less clout than someone like auteur Altman, who’s still riding high from last year’s The Player? ”I think that if you’re Martin Scorsese or Francis Coppola or Oliver Stone, you have a little more power,” says Altman, whose contract called for a 2- hour-and-10-minute movie. ”I didn’t want the film (3 hours) long. I did everything I could to make it shorter, but this is what it is.” ”Some movies are told better when they’re longer,” says Universal chief Tom Pollock, whose studio produced Scent of a Woman. Still, Pollock doesn’t see any forces other than coincidence at work in the Bloating of Entertainment. ”What about the Russian novel?” he laughs. ”Hasn’t anybody ever read Crime and Punishment or Anna Karenina?”