The quick-flick mentality makes for Hollywood bargain

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Sometimes moviegoers are just looking for a quickie. That certainly has been the case the past two weekends.

During the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday frame, Paramount's "Cloverfield" (running time a trim 84 minutes) bowed to a whopping $46.1 million. Last weekend, Fox/Regency's "Meet the Spartans" (an equally scant 84 minutes) took the top spot with a solid $18.5 million. Ignore the end credits on both movies, as most audiences do, and each film barely tops 70 minutes.

By contrast, the five movies competing in this year's best picture Oscar race clock in at an average of two hours and five minutes. "Juno," the briefest of the lot, runs 96 minutes, while "There Will Be Blood," the longest, stretches out to 158 minutes.

In other corners of the entertainment world, consumers would balk at paying the same price for works of such disparate lengths. After all, shorter books cost less than longer books. And while the complete "deluxe" soundtrack CD of "Sweeney Todd" is selling on Amazon for $18.99, the abridged CD, with four fewer tracks, is being offered for $12.99.

Moviegoers, though, don't take running time into consideration when deciding whether a given movie is worth the price of a ticket. If anything, critics and moviegoers are more likely to complain that a movie is too long rather than too short.

When the 160-minute "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" hit theaters in September, more than one reviewer turned into a backseat editor, admonishing director Andrew Dominik that the movie should have been cut by 20 minutes or so. But then reviewers probably are more time-sensitive than the average moviegoer, because when reviewers are watching a movie, they're often on the clock and facing a deadline. At film festivals, where critics often try to take in three or four movies a day, they're constantly checking their watches.

Moviegoers, on the other hand, generally devote an evening to a single film. Time is not as much of an issue, though longer movies can raise scheduling considerations that shorter movies avoid.

A longer movie simply complicates an evening's logistics -- factor in travel time, a possible meal, etc., and a 21⁄2-hour movie can turn into a five-hour commitment. But in the case of a quickie movie, even when an exhibitor tacks on 15 minutes of trailers, movie fans can be in and out of the theater in about two hours.

In the case of movies aimed at younger kids, with their shorter attention spans, brevity has long been regarded as a virtue. This Christmas, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" might have run a brisk 92 minutes, but it's gone on to gross a sizable $204.7 million domestically. Similarly, restless teens weren't complaining that January's offerings have been short and sweet.

"Cloverfield," possibly because its hand-held camera style proved exhausting to some viewers, didn't feel particularly short. And the grab-bag parody approach of "Spartans" stuffed enough hit-and-run jokes into the proceedings so that its audiences wouldn't feel shortchanged.

"Cloverfield" did fall by a precipitous 68% during its second weekend. But whatever these movies' shortcomings, running time didn't appear to be a major factor. And as long as moviegoers are happy with the old in-and-out, then Hollywood has found itself a bargain.
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