Boiling Point: Bring Back the 3 Act Structure

There is a new trend in Hollywood that seems to buck the three-act structure. This shows up on screen when you’re watching a movie, you think you hit the climax and then suddenly there are another twenty minutes of movie to happen. Yes, it can be disorientating and sometimes it can be downright painful. Early movies that pulled this fakey-climax on the audience include The Matrix Reloaded and The Return of the King. Modern examples include The Dark Knight, which seemed to have three endings, and the upcoming wide release of Appaloosa.

Now, I’m not saying these are bad movies, clearly. Return of the King is great, The Dark Knight is awesome, and, as you’ll see in my upcoming review, Appaloosa kicks all kinds of ass. But that doesn’t mean I appreciate getting faked out. I’m certain many people will say “What, you’re complaining about good movies having too much in them?” Well yeah, I sort of am. A good movie doesn’t have to be long and a longer movie isn’t always better. Does the movie have to extend itself? Is this little bit tacked on totally necessary? Could it have been handled in a different way, a more integrated and flowing way? When you come down to it, that’s really what bothers people about these “many climaxes,” they disrupt the flow. It’s kind of a herky-jerky thing. We’re riding down a smooth road, taking the twists and turns and we arrive at our destination only to have the gas peddle pressed and the wheel jerked to the right and now we’re down some side street.

In a way, The Lord of the Rings trilogy ushered in this era, proving we were willing to sit down for 3 hour movies frequently. Now, even comedies extend past two hours and suffer from the multiple-act structure – Apatow, I am burning holes through your head with my eye lasers. There can be too much of a good thing. There are great movies going unwatched because a 150 minute run time is daunting. I like to watch movies straight through, so I’m not a start-and-stop viewer. So when I want to watch the extended cut of Dances with Wolves I have to carve out a big part of a day, so I don’t do it often.

Listen, I know this may sound crazy, but I like movies to keep a nice flow to them. I’d rather watch a 2 hour movie with a great pace than a 2 hour and 20 minute movie that jukes and dodges its way around so it can fit in everything. Save something for the sequel guys! I understand filmmakers want to fight to get their complete visions on the screen and sometimes its definitely worth the extra film cells, but there are times when I’m sitting there, expecting a credit roll and instead get more disconnected scenes and I just wish they would have wrapped it up instead.

So maybe on this one I am alone. Maybe everyone just wants more, more, more. But I want some quality over quantity. I want solid pacing and a good flow from start to finish. I don’t need that extra 20 minutes every time, I’d rather it get the proper lead-in and lead-out it deserves. If you have to cram it in, maybe it’s best saved for later. So Hollywood, chill out a second. Don’t tack on two or three endings after some almost climaxes. And while I love some of the movies that have done this to me, it’s bordering on an abusive relationship. Let the story progress and end on a good beat or else I’ll end up at my boiling point again and again.

Does this ever bother you? What movies have tacked on just a little too much for your tastes?


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