But is this idea realistic?
A requirement of immersion
The ultra-long film is not a concept that many people have talked about. Commercial films have been around two hours on average since the 1950s. There has been the odd epic movie thrown here and there: Ben Hur lasted three and a half hours; Cleopatra, with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, over four hours; but these have always been the exception to the rule.
However, ever-improving technology has made the idea of immersion popular: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology seeks to transport you to another world, video games broadcast ever more realistic worlds through our screens, while even online casinos bring you an immersive betting experience with live dealer games.
This is confirmed by the success of hit series As Succession, which broke viewing records and got everyone talking. Shows like these offer beautifully filmed, big-budget content streamed to your TV screen. You no longer need to venture to the cinema to get your cinematic fix: it’s all there in HD glory that takes pride of place in your living room. Additionally, binge-watching is in demand like never before: people don’t mind watching five or six hours of their favorite TV show in a row, so why can’t the film industry come up with its own alternative ?
The concept of six o’clock
The ultra-long movie Cameron suggests, however, might not be what you think. Instead of watching a six-hour movie without interruption, the director believes a revolutionary new model of theatrical streaming is the answer.
Viewers could choose which version of the film they want to see: the premiere would involve it being split into episodes, much like a TV series, for home viewing. The second option would be an edited two-hour version that would appear in mainstream theaters. With this model, the consumer gets cinema-quality television in digestible chunks, while having the opportunity to check out the local cinema.
At the heart of this idea is the concept of consumer choice. In the digital age, we’re all so used to having a multitude of viewing options that the old-school movie format is starting to feel a bit outdated. It’s also been done before: carlosthe serial killer biopic Carlos the Jackalwas split into three television episodes totaling five and a half hours in 2010. There was also a two-hour stripped down version in theaters.
So what’s not to like?
As with most new ideas, however, Cameron’s suggestion drew its fair share of criticism. Why go to the cinema to see an edited version of a film? What will we miss in the longer film? These are two common questions. Some critics even fear it will mean the death of cinema as we know it, an industry that has already suffered a lot during the pandemic.
Also, you could argue that many TV series already offer high-quality cinematic viewing. Epic dramas like game of thrones offer episodes that feel like mini-movies in themselves, with their exorbitant budgets and cutting-edge technology. A six-hour movie delivered in hour-long bundles can feel like watching your favorite TV show anyway.
But it’s hard to fault Cameron for trying to find alternatives. Internet platforms are becoming more and more flexible and it would be foolish not to explore all the options they can offer us in the future.
If there’s one thing that’s certain about the next decade, it’s that change will play a huge role. As mentioned, we already see VR and AR in video games, and the television and film industries are not far behind. One avenue filmmakers could explore is to offer fully immersive films where viewers find themselves virtually transported into the world on their screens. The graphics and special effects will appear realistic and allow us to experience movies like never before.
Film companies could also take inspiration from the book of films like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, where the viewer can choose what happens next in the storyline. Although it involves a lot of work for the filmmaker, the freedom to create his own film has been a big hit with moviegoers.
Innovations like these are what James Cameron will need to consider as we embark on the next stage of the digital revolution, which could include a six-hour movie coming soon to a TV near you.
Photo: According to director James Cameron, this is the ideal length for a film. And he should know: the man behind epics like Titanic and Avatar has kept audiences grounded in their seats for decades now, and he believes the epic film is cinema’s perfect response to the Netflix series boom.
picture by pawel szvmanski on Unsplash