Last night I visited the cinema to watch two perfect movies; Nerve and The Shallows. When I say perfect, you may think they were instant classic movies that will contend all the awards and will rank amongst the greatest ever made. Sadly this is not true, they are flawed movies that are average at best. However, they are exactly what they are supposed to be, they are disposable fun B movies.
The B movie started life in the early days of cinema using sets and stages from major pictures to make cheep films in an effort to maximise studios return on investment. They were also a useful way of breaking new contract players into movie making. The major studios were full of potential leading men and ladies, ingénue’s straight of the bus, a small number of whom would become stars.
Many of the B pictures became series, or followed a formula that would make you think they were a series. Away from the eight major studios, the so called Poverty Row studios made nothing but B movies. In the last days of the silent era and the early days of the talkies into the Golden Age of Hollywood, the B movie evolved into second features. Throughout the 30’s and 40’s B movies were often genre pictures and usually clocked in at between 60 and 70 minutes for the poverty row studios and up to 90 minutes for the majors. As antitrust rules killed off second features, B movies evolved. They continued to focus of genres; monsters, gangsters and cowboys were joined by the post war explosion in Sci-Fi. The 60’s saw the birth of Exploitation movies. Many of the directors credited as visionaries of American New Wave got their break in 60’s exploitation and B movies.
So back to last night’s double feature: Nerve is a teen (although most actors haven’t been teens this decade) satire on social media dressed up as an adventure thriller. The plot isn’t as good as the concept and loses its way as it develops but is helped by engaging performances from Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.
The Shallows is an effective horror thriller about a young surfer who is stranded on rocks 200 yards from shore by a killer shark. The surf scenes are well shot and Blake Lively manages to hold the viewers interest in a largely solo performance. The plot is full of clichés and goofs but does feature a main character who doesn’t make the stupid decisions you usually associate with the genre.
So what is so good about the movies? They are 106 and 96 minutes long respectively. If Scorsese or Nolan want to make a three hour masterpiece, great, they have proved they can do it, but do popcorn B pictures need to be two plus hours long? Simply NO! Many two hour movies could be dramatically improved by being trimmed down to sub 100 minutes. A perfect example of this:
If you watch the original, and still the best version of King Kong (1933) staring Fay Wray and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (both uncredited) and run it alongside Peter Jackson’s 2005 version, you may be surprised at what happens. The older film runs for around 96 minutes, and is ending at about the same time as Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody arrive at Skull Island. In fact, you could watch the old film twice in the time it takes to watch the new one once. Did beauty kill the beast, or was it boredom?