I say light comedies should aim for 90 minutes and go as long as 105 if need be. (Could someone please let Judd Apatow know this was good enough for Preston Sturges, a better writer/director of comedies than he is? 135 minutes for movies like the director's cut of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is crazy. On the other hand, I could watch Sturges' The Lady Eve, a brisk 94 minutes, 100 times and not get tired of it.) Meatier comedies could go up to two hours, and not one second longer. Non-epic dramas really ought to be able to be told in 120 minutes, too, though I'll allow a cushion of 10 extra minutes. Popcorn flicks like Indiana Jones and the X-Men movies should keep it to two hours, too. (Last year's Transformers, based on a line of toys--a line of toys!!--clocked in at 144 minutes. I didn't see it, but for me, that sounds about 140 minutes too long, give or take.)
Epics ... well, once you go over two and half hours, my attention begins to flag, no matter how good the movie is. Lawrence of Arabia starts trying my patience around that point. Can we say two hours, 45 minutes? Oh, if you're David Lean, OK, OK, you can have three hours. But that is it, sir. (The only way I got through Bertolucci's The Last Emperor was with the help of an extra-large Coke and extra-large popcorn. That was the theatrical version, at 160 minutes. The DVD director's cut? 219. There isn't enough Coke in the world for that.)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a special case. The theatrical versions bored me a bit, to be honest (especially the second one). The DVD versions are longer ... yet somehow seem shorter. They flow better. But I could never watch any of them in one night--they must be split in two. Fortunately, all are divided over two disks. And yes, I get a lump in my throat at the end of The Return of the King.
The upcoming Steven Soderbergh movie about Che Guevara is four hours. Ugh. No way. It may get divided into two separate features, which sounds like a good idea.
Not that I'm dying to see two movies about Che. Cher, maybe.
GREAT-MINDS-THINK-ALIKE UPDATE: The New Yorker's Anthony Lane on the Sex and the City movie:
What followed was not strictly a movie. It was more like a TV show on steroids. The televised episodes, which ran from 1998 to 2004, lasted for no more than half an hour each. So, spare a thought for the director of the film, Michael Patrick King, who also wrote the screenplay. Faced with the flimsiest of concepts, he had to take it by both ends and pull until he stretched it out to two and a quarter hours. Two and a quarter! When Garbo made “Anna Karenina,” in 1935, she got happy, unhappy, loved, left, and under the train in less than a hundred minutes, so how the hell are her successors supposed to fill the time?