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Some new films test your sitting ability
Blame 'Titanic' for excessive length of movies

Here's a helpful piece of advice for those who are going to the movies this holiday season: Bring a pillow.

That's not necessarily a reflection on the comfort factor of local theater seats -- though the seats in some could qualify as miniature torture chambers. It's more a reflection on filmmakers and the studios, who are making this season a tush-testing experience.Now, don't misunderstand me. There's nothing wrong with a long movie when the material merits it.

Many classics -- among them David Lean's 1962 biography of "Lawrence of Arabia," Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 version of "The Ten Commandments" and David O. Selznick's 1939 classic, "Gone With the Wind" -- ran much longer than two hours. (They were 216, 220 and 222 minutes, respectively.)

But few, if any, of this current crop of movies can justify their epic lengths.

Take "The Green Mile" as an example. At 188 minutes, this latest Stephen King adaptation is simply too much of a good thing.

Director/writer Frank Darabont has made too literal a version of King's serialized best-seller, and there are several subplots that could be trimmed down without seriously destroying their impact.

Other decent efforts that still feel at least a little too long are "The Insider" (158 minutes) and "Princess Mononoke" (133 minutes). They, too could use at least a little editing.

However, even editing wouldn't salvage some movies -- unless that "editing" include snipping out the dull dialogue scenes from "The World is Not Enough," "Dogma" and "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc." (The films clock in at 128, 125 and 141 minutes, respectively.)

By the way, a lot of upcoming releases aren't exactly short films either.

"Anna and the King" (145 minutes), "Magnolia" (179), "Ride with the Devil" (138), "Cradle Will Rock" (132), "The Hurricane" (165), "The Cider House Rules" (131) and "Snow Falling on Cedars" (126) are all expected to open in Salt Lake City between now and the end of January.

And even though the running times for "Any Given Sunday" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" haven't been released, both are expected to be in excess of two hours, simply because of the filmmakers involved (Oliver Stone and "The English Patient's" Anthony Minghella, respectively.)

If you're looking for someone -- or something -- to blame for this cinematic excess, look no further than "Titanic," which floated to the top of the box office in spite of its three-hour-plus running time.

Similarly, "Saving Private Ryan" succeeded both commercially and critically even though it, too, was nearly three hours long.

But for every success story like those two, there's a miserable failure like "Meet Joe Black," Martin Brest's three-hour-long remake of "Death Takes a Holiday," which tanked in theaters.

Of course, that could also have something to do with its star, Brad Pitt, who hasn't exactly set the world on fire with his past three movies (which included "Seven Years in Tibet" and "Fight Club").

But I digress.

THE BRIEFER THE BETTER? Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with making a long movie. But some of the year's better films were shorter than 100 minutes in length.

Among them were "An Ideal Husband" (97 minutes), "The Castle" (82), "Run Lola Run" (79), "The Dinner Game" (78) and "The Blair Witch Project" (80). And the current box-office champ, "Toy Story 2," is only 92 minutes long.

All of which goes to show that you can tell a compelling story in a short amount of time.

Are you listening, Hollywood?

BUT THEN AGAIN . . . Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that some of the year's worst movie were pretty short, too.

"Teaching Mrs. Tingle" (96), "The Story of Us" (94), "Baby Geniuses" (94), "A Dog of Flanders" (99) and "Simply Irresistible" (95) were pretty easy to resist after all.

However, special prizes for excruciating cinema should go to the big-screen versions of "Inspector Gadget" and "Dudley Do-Right." Both were barely long enough to qualify as features (78 and 77 minutes, respectively), yet somehow they felt like they were at least twice as long.

And don't forget "Pokemon: The First Movie," which comprised a 25-minute "short," the saccharine "Pikachu's Vacation" and the incredibly violent, 64-minute feature, "Mewtwo Strikes Back." Ugh!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Hey, it's more movie for your dollar! It's like an extra inning. Wow, now you can get a whole evening of entertainment!" -- Actor Tom Hanks, joking about the long running time for "The Green Mile."

Deseret News movie critic Jeff Vice can be reached by e-mail at jeff@desnews.com