What’s that smell?

The smell in question is the stink being raised by some movie theater chains over the running length of Peter Jackson’s upcoming version of King Kong. The theater owners are crying like a bunch of milk babies because Jackson’s current cut of the movie is clocking in at almost three hours.

The exhibitors are booing and hissing because they claim that the audiences won’t sit still for a movie that long, and that’s just a steaming bowl of butter-flavored popcorn topping. Give an audience something entertaining to watch and they’ll sit there all day. The real reason they don’t want to play a movie that long is because it lowers the number of times the film can be showed in a day.

Back when I was a theater manager, the optimum running time for a movie was around a hundred minutes. A little over an hour and a half. That way you could schedule your show times for 12, 2, 4, 6, 8 & 10, which was easy for people to remember. The timing worked out well. You could shepherd one audience out (nobody seemed to want to stay and read the credits back then), pick up the cups and popcorn buckets from the aisles, and then load the next audience in, with five or ten minutes left for them to buy candy, drinks and popcorn.

For a first-run theater, the concession is where it’s all at. For the first few weeks of a new movie the film distributor skims up to eight percent of the ticket cost right off the top. Sure, playing eight bucks for a bucket of popcorn is highway robbery, but keep in mind that it’s what’s paying for supplies, salaries and keeping the electricity on. The longer a movie is in release the less the distributor takes out of every box office dollar.

The movie chains want King Kong to be shorter so they can have more showings per day and sell more five-dollar bags of M&Ms. I don’t blame them, but don’t try to cast the blame on us.

Gosh, I hope this movie is good. I have my worries about Jack Black. I love him in Tenacious D, but this might not be the right role for him. I’ll wait and see about Adrian Brody. He’s a good enough actor that he might effectively vanish into his character. And then of course there’s Naomi Watts. I’d pay to watch her wash socks.

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