Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Pirate Radio Boat that Used to Rock

Before I moved back to the United States from Dublin, a friend and I went to see the new Richard Curtis film titled The Boat that Rocked.  Now, Richard Curtis is generally understood to be the best British Romantic Comedy writer/producer/director, and is particularly brilliant at cross marketing his films by incorporating into his stories an "across the pond" connection a.k.a. highlighting the "special relationship" between the cultures of the United States and Great Britain.  Just look at Notting Hill and Love Actually...both inarguably British films, but heavy on the canned-ham sentiment that American audiences goggle up, plus there are always American characters and American actors playing those characters.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that production studios and film distributors are mainly in the film business to make money. Artistic integrity and the theories of "art for arts sake" are generally low on the totem pole.  But when we have a cross-cultural blend-film like The Boat that Rocked, it becomes blazingly apparent where British and US distributors differ.

 I loved The Boat that Rocked. It was just what I needed at the end of a long, stressful and drearily rainy week in Ireland.  My friend and I howled with laughter, we danced in our seats, and we chattered like hungry Gibbons afterward with reflections of praise.  Therefore, when the film was re-distributed here in the United States under the title Pirate Radio, I recommended it to friends, my parents, strangers, people at work, basically anyone who would listen.  This past weekend, I wanted a little break from screening think-piece films so I rented Pirate Radio.  About an hour in to the film I realized that something wasn't right - then it hit me - the film had been re-edited down from a lengthy (but awesome) 2.5 hours to a reasonable (yet hurried and more serious) 2 hours.  The basic dilemma here is the assumption that American audiences are less likely to see a 2.5 hour film than they are to see a 2 hour film.  You may have noticed already that most films time in at about 1.5 hours long.  This is because marketing and revenue strategists working for the production studios and distribution houses know that the longer the film, the fewer the screenings a theater will be able to offer thus reducing box-office takes and lowering the projected profits for any given film.  I have also read that it is widely understood amongst said studios that an audience only has an attention span of approximately 1.5 hours.  How insulting - not that it matters - because you can easily guess which of these two factors is the really motivator for setting limits on a films running time.  Its is a real shame. I will quote for you this statement found on IMDB.com: 
"US distributor, Universal have chosen to re-title the film as "Pirate Radio" and release it under Focus Features in US territories. This new version will be edited for length by director Richard Curtis after some European reviewers cited its 135 minute running time as a factor in its diminished success."
According to MovieMojo.com the films budget was $50M US and as of Oct, 2009 the film had only grossed $36M US.  Perhaps the studios should have focused on marketing and advertising rather than trimming a brilliant film. 

This re-editing of The Boat that Rocked / Pirate Radio essentially ruined the film.  Some of the most hilarious scenes have vanished.  The tone of the film become less about happy-go-lucky frivolity and more talkie-talkie drama.  The Boat that Rocked / Pirate Radio is a perfect example of how when U.S. distributors get their mitts on a great yet board-line film (and by that I mean challenging to market) they just make a mess of what they intended to "fix".  If you want to see this film, please find the UK 2.5 hours version THE BOAT THAT ROCKED...cuz it does :)