November 22, 2010
Kids these days have short attention spans.
Or so I”ve often been informed. For example, Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford professor of “synaptic pharmacology,” recently warned the House of Lords that social-networking websites “are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize, and a shaky sense of identity.”
Yet having recently plunked my 20th-century mind down amid an otherwise superbly attentive young audience cheering on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the seventh and penultimate film in the witches and warlocks series, I suspect the opposite is truer. When sufficiently interested, the new generation can display an attention span that boggles the old. (Personally, I could have used a little more sensationalism to keep me focused.)
The Harry Potter phenomenon is immense. The first novel by J. K. Rowling, now a billionairess, barely broke 300 pages. The last four of the seven, however, averaged 772 pages each, making the total series 4,195 pages. The eight movies made from the seven books (Deathly Hallows was split into two pictures) will extend across twenty hours.
When I was at UCLA in the early 1980s, Westwood’s big movie theaters had an easy-to-remember standard evening schedule: 6 p.m., 8 p.m., 10 p.m., and midnight. Sometimes they ran late, but the typical movie then was under two hours. In contrast, Deathly Hallows, which is slightly shorter than average for a Harry Potter film at 146 minutes, generally shows at, say, 7:00 p.m. and 10:20 p.m. In theory, this isn”t as profitable for the theaters as the old schedule, but Harry Potters make more than enough money for all concerned: In aggregate, the eight movies will pull in well over $7 billion at the global box office.