'Transformers 4': How long is too long for a giant robot movie?

MoviesMichael BayTransformers: Age of Extinction
Each 'Transformers' film has been longer than the last one. Version 4 hits 2 hours, 45 minutes
The nearly three-hour running time for 'Transformers 4' could cut into its grosses, says @joshrottenberg

Love him or hate him (or love to hate him), Michael Bay is a this-knob-goes-to-11 kind of director. He has never subscribed to the philosophy of “always leave them wanting more” — and, judging by his box office record, at least, it's hard to argue with the results. But in the case of Bay’s latest, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” if the largely scathing reviews are any indication, many who see the movie this weekend may be left wanting a little less.

With each successive installment in the “Transformers” franchise, the running time has grown longer. The first “Transformers” film came in at a relatively svelte 2 hours, 24 minutes; the second ran 2 hours, 30 minutes; the third was 2 hours, 37 minutes. And the fourth? It tips the scales at a whopping 2 hours, 45 minutes. That’s 165 minutes of cars turning into giant robots and making smashy smashy.

It’s not uncommon for some bloat to creep into ongoing franchises, as directors feel both emboldened by their success and pressured to top themselves. The first film in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy ran 2 hours, 58 minutes, but by the third trek through Middle-earth, that run-time was up to 3 hours, 21 minutes. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy went from 2 hours, 21 minutes for “Batman Begins” to 2 hours, 45 minutes for “The Dark Knight Returns.”

But while many critics and moviegoers felt those films earned their lengths with a certain thematic heft, it’s fair to ask whether any movie based on a line of toys really needs to be nearly three hours long. To put things in perspective, the original cut of “Apocalypse Now” was just 2 hours, 33 minutes long — and there Francis Ford Coppola was taking on the Vietnam War, not the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. But in today's Hollywood, it's the Jacksons, Nolans and Bays who are swinging for the fences with the kind of long cinematic epics that used to be the province of filmmakers like Coppola, David Lean, and Akira Kurosawa.

One might wonder why you'd even want to make such a long movie in the first place if your primary target audience is attention-span-challenged 10-to-15-year-old boys. But the fact is, there are more than aesthetic considerations at play here. By releasing the fourth “Transformers” film at 165 minutes, Paramount Pictures is potentially cutting into its own grosses. It's simple math: the longer the movie, the fewer the times it can be shown in any given theater.

Make no mistake: “Transformers: Age of Extinction” will earn vast amounts of money in its opening weekend, and Bay will likely brush off the negative reviews, as he always does. “They castrate me,” he once said of critics. “They think I’m the devil.” (For the record, Times critic Betsy Sharkey found plenty to like about the movie.) But if the film comes in at significantly below the $100-million benchmark many have set for its opening, some observers will inevitably be asking on Monday whether Bay should have reined things in just a bit. After all, the Transformers are already “more than meets the eye.” Isn’t that enough?

Follow @joshrottenberg for more movie news

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
MoviesMichael BayTransformers: Age of Extinction
  • 'Transformers: Age of Extinction' grinds critics' gears
    'Transformers: Age of Extinction' grinds critics' gears

    Michael Bay's eye-popping, ear-splitting "Transformers" movies have proved themselves essentially critic-proof -- the first three installments all received lackluster reviews while combining for more than $2.7 billion at the worldwide box office -- but that hasn't stopped reviewers from trying.

  • 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' has a definite bite
    'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' has a definite bite

    A vampire is such a handy creature for filmmakers in search of a metaphor or two. Mortality is usually the first bite, and Ana Lily Amirpour's stunning first feature, "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," definitely takes a stab at that.

  • Farmworkers ill served by 'Food Chains'
    Farmworkers ill served by 'Food Chains'

    Using Florida farmworkers' six-day hunger strike as its jumping-off point, the advocacy documentary "Food Chains" launches its case for how supermarkets, fast-food restaurants and other food services indirectly exploit laborers.

  • 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' is just a place-holder
    'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' is just a place-holder

    Director Peter Jackson was in the room with New Line Cinema founder Bob Shaye back in 1998, or so the story goes, pitching him on making J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy into a pair of films, when Shaye stopped him with a question: "Why make two films when you can make three?"

  • Mike Nichols' incisive, touching films got personal
    Mike Nichols' incisive, touching films got personal

    When I watch the films of Mike Nichols, I see my children, my parents, family, friends, foes, life in all of its complexity. I see me.

  • How Logan Lerman worked up the nerve to sock Brad Pitt
    How Logan Lerman worked up the nerve to sock Brad Pitt

    In the brutal World War II action movie "Fury," Logan Lerman plays a raw draftee thrown into battle, enduring a 24-hour crucible of death and destruction. "It's basically one steady nervous breakdown," Lerman, 22, said of his character's hellish journey. "That's what I loved about it. For an...