The authorities of bladder control have arrived for Ridley Scott. The experienced filmmaker is preparing to unveil his grand production, Napoleon, featuring Joaquin Phoenix as the brilliant military leader and ruler of France. This will once again spark discussions about extended film durations versus ambitious directorial choices.
During a recent interview, Scott admitted that the “bum ache factor” has led him to shorten the running time of Napoleon in cinemas to two hours and 38 minutes. However, he intends to release the complete, uncensored version on a streaming platform, which could be over four hours long.
The conflict between artistic freedom and financial success has been a constant source of tension in the film industry. Studios generally prefer shorter films, as they can screen them more times in a day and sell more tickets. However, Scott proved that a director’s cut, which was typically seen as a contractual obligation and often ignored, could actually be a profitable move. This was demonstrated when he released a version of his 1982 film Blade Runner ten years after its initial release.
The emergence of streaming services has brought attention to this issue. These platforms, such as Netflix, Disney+, and Apple TV+, are not limited by the constraints of a movie theater and can offer longer and more extensive content if they believe it will attract their audience.
The moral implications are not as straightforward. Martin Scorsese recently debuted his film Killers of the Flower Moon, which chronicles the Osage Nation killings in the 1920s. The film has a runtime of three hours and 26 minutes, causing many theaters to unofficially insert a 15-minute break for bathroom use – much to the disappointment of the film’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. Killers of the Flower Moon was funded by Apple and will not have any mandatory breaks when it is streamed on their platform, Apple TV+.
Scorsese encountered similar challenges with his 2019 crime drama The Irishman, which has a three-minute longer runtime than Killers of the Flower Moon. The film was the target of jokes on social media, with some suggesting it be viewed as a mini-series rather than in one sitting. Despite this, traditional studios were hesitant to finance such lengthy projects, leaving streaming platforms as Scorsese’s only viable option for production.
This method can also be employed to appease unhappy supporters. Following a lengthy campaign on social media, Warner Bros released the “Snyder cut” of their superhero movie Justice League. The original director, Zack Snyder, had to step down from the project due to a personal tragedy and was replaced by Joss Whedon, resulting in significant changes to the film. It was reported that Warner Bros spent $70 million on the Snyder cut, which runs for four hours and two minutes and was made available on their streaming service HBO Max.
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was initially intended as a TV series, but due to financial issues, it was turned into a film project. Similarly, Peter Jackson’s Let It Be documentary, which was originally planned as a movie, ended up being released as an eight-hour streaming series on Disney+ in 2021.
Controversially, feature films that have already been released are now being adapted for streaming. Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 epic Australia will soon be available as a six-part series titled Faraway Downs on Hulu and Disney+ starting on November 26th. Luhrmann believes that the world of streaming has brought new life to episodic storytelling.