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All of these super long movies should just be TV miniseries

Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz
Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A time In Hollywood", in Berlin

Quentin Tarantino’s summer hit, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, might be coming to Netflix—as a mini-series. In an interview with the New York Times, Brad Pitt, who co-starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie in the film, suggested that Tarantino had discussed the possibility of converting his nearly three-hour tale to the small screen.

Tarantino did a similar repurposing for his 2015 western The Hateful Eight earlier this year, releasing extra footage on Netflix packaged as an “extended release” of the film. “The movie exists as a movie, but if I were to use all the footage we shot, and see if I could put it together in episode form, I was game to give that a shot,” the director told Slash Film in April. The miniseries version of The Hateful Eight consists of four 50-minute installments.

Once Upon a Time, meanwhile, has plenty of extra footage of its own that Tarantino apparently thinks audiences will be interested to watch in a different format. According to IndieWire, the first cut of the film clocked in at a whopping four hours and 20 minutes, while the finished theatrical cut was just over two hours and 40 minutes. The publication added that Tarantino is “excited by the chance for ‘fuller versions’ of his work to come out, teasing the possibility of his other films becoming ‘extended miniseries.'”

Why not just make TV?

It must be asked: Instead of painstakingly converting bloated, overstuffed three-hour films into episodic television, why not just make TV shows in the first place? After all, that’s one advantage of storytelling on TV: It can be longer. It lets narratives breathe, gives them permission to meander on occasion. What might be left on the cutting room floor for a film could constitute an entire episode’s worth of story on TV.

We’re looking at you, Martin Scorsese, whose upcoming film, The Irishman, is his longest movie to date at an unfathomable 3.5 hours. It’s set to be released on Netflix after a brief run in theaters. This weekend’s box office hit, It: Chapter Two, also hovers around the three-hour mark. In general, mainstream Hollywood movies are getting longer and longer.

One reason directors don’t go the TV route is purity. Despite of the common sentiment that we’re in the golden age of prestige television, with TV seasons frequently billed as “10-hour movies,” many distinguished directors have maintained their commitment to a theater-based cinematic experience—and the accolades that come with that.

For instance, in an interview with ITV news last year, filmmaker Steven Spielberg declared that “once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie… You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.” Other directors like Christopher Nolan have expressed a similar hesitance to design stories specifically for the small screen—and Netflix in particular, which they view as antithetical to the traditional theater experience.

Take a page from the DuVernay playbook

Historically, Big Movie Men—Scorsese, Spielberg, Nolan, and their ilk—have eschewed television as a storytelling format. This is all in spite of the fact that some prominent filmmakers, including Scorsese himself, have admitted that cinema, as they once knew it, is not what it used to be.

And while some of the old guard still clings to film format while the entertainment landscape changes rapidly around them, others are coming around. David Fincher, Ava DuVerney, Spike Lee, and more acclaimed film directors have turned to television, recognizing that it’s a great place to go deeper than a two- or even three-hour film.

DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us is among the best content—of any kind—to come out this year. The HBO miniseries Chernobyl, which surely would have been a messy three-and-a-half-hour movie if forced into theaters, is storytelling at its finest—each episode a compelling self-contained moment that connects to a cohesive whole.

Next time Tarantino is thinking of making a four-hour movie, he can save himself some hassle and just make a TV show instead.

 

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