Finishing books vs. finishing movies

Over these past few months I’ve been watching more movies than ever before, and Peter’s tweet got me thinking about movie-patience. I DNF books all the time. Movies, I almost always finish. Why is this? A couple theories:

  • Movies last a specific amount of time. Knowing that I will be done with a mediocre movie in 86 minutes makes it easier to bear. Ambiguity around the time investment works against books.
  • Movies require less attention, so I can do other things while I (kinda sorta) watch. Eating, light conversation, light internetting, intermittent texting, etc.
  • Because there are fewer produced, movies make better conversation topics. They have better cultural currency. More people are more likely to have seen or at least be familiar with a given movie. So there’s a higher social cost for not being familiar with it.
  • Movies have a better entertainment/time ratio.
  • My priorities are out of whack.
  • I am subconsciously addressing an innate human need for stories. Most of my reading is nonfiction, so I’m using cinema-fiction to make up for the lack of text-fiction.
  • Eye candy.
  • Movies involve more people, more money, more compromises, more constraints on time and budget, and thus they are less likely to have nonessential bloat. Though I can easily see this argument going the other way, too.

Other possibilities?

4 thoughts on “Finishing books vs. finishing movies

  1. I’m actually the reverse – I tend to finish most books I start, but I DNF movies with increasing frequency.If some isolated portion of a book comes off a little lame or lazy, I can only pin it on the author, and maybe an editor or two. It’s an excusable fault in the scope of a greater work.If a movie starts off with a particularly unappealing or offensive half hour, hundreds of staff and millions of dollars went into that failed 30 minutes! Writers, directors, actors, editors – all contributing to bad cinema! That’s an inexcusable offense.Also, since movies are conversational fodder, I see the DNF as the ultimate dismissal of a film – I don’t care enough to want to be able to talk about how bad it is.(Examples of movies I DNF in the last two years: Crash. The Hangover. Beowulf. Burn After Reading. Cloverfield. Squid & The Whale. 500 Days of Summer. Brothers Grimm. The Illusionist. Across the Universe.)

  2. My DNF count is higher for books. Some possible reasons:* I often read two books in parallel (usually one fiction and one non-fiction), and if one starts to drag I am naturally more drawn to the other. Before long, the slower book drifts to the bottom of the pile and doesn’t get finished.* Films are more immersive. You can forget you’re watching a crappy movie more easily than you can ignore that you’re reading a crappy book.* The time commitment makes me think about them differently. I sometimes watch a particular film because I want to be entertained by something trashy; I never set out to read trashy books.* With a film, you make a decision to watch it once, before it begins. With a book, you have to keep going back to read it day after day, and each time you need to decide that it’s worth your while to keep reading. There are simply more opportunities to give up.* I often watch movies with someone else, and don’t want to spoil the experience for them by complaining and switching off.

  3. I thought of a couple other options this morning:-Maybe I’m better at picking movies than books. Some combination of better filtering, better recommendations, or just dumb luck has led me to higher-quality, more finishable movies.-I’ve developed higher standards for books. Maybe I just have a better sense of the style and content I like, whereas with movies I’m still in the learning-to-appreciate stage.@krisis: Two really good ideas here: “If a movie starts off with a particularly unappealing or offensive half hour, hundreds of staff and millions of dollars went into that failed 30 minutes!” In other words, mediocre books are less wasteful. And mediocre movies indicate a multitude of bad decisions. Both good reasons to stop the movie. I also like your point about maintaining the DNF as an “ultimate dismissal”. If I keep finishing everything, I lose the nuclear option.@emmet: I’m also a parallel reader, with some mix of fiction and nonfiction. Having the ability to compare and trade back and forth is a huge benefit. There’s gotta be a way to do this with movies… I also like this idea of “trashy” entertainment. It’s somehow easier for me to accept “low art” in movies than books. And the point about your viewing company is dead-on — oh, the sacrifices I’ve made for friendship!

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