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TV and Movies

Avengers: Endgame proves we should bring back the intermission

Commentary: If the blockbuster-to-be really runs three hours, an official pause for a snack or bathroom break would be Marvel-ous.

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Avengers: Endgame could probably use that throwback to epic movies of years past, the intermission.

Marvel

If you believe the runtime posted (and then deleted) on the AMC theaters site on Monday, Avengers: Endgame is apparently going to run over three hours long. Some fans on social media are calling for the resurrection of the old theater tradition of an intermission. It won't happen, I know it, but count me on the list of fans who wish it would.

Many modern moviegoers may never have experienced an intermission in their lifetime, but they were a familiar option in the days when filmmakers still shot epics. During a cinematic intermission (sometimes called an interval), the movie action stops, usually with a still image announcing the break frozen on the screen. Early movie technology required intermissions so projectionists could change reels. Drive-in movies, if you even can find one nowadays, often play an intermission video in between features, with one of the most famous urging fans to "go to the lobby, to get ourselves a snack."

"Intermission" is such a quaint word. Such mid-show stoppages are still used in this country for live theater -- Hamilton doesn't make patrons throw away their shot at a bathroom break. And movie intermissions are apparently still common in India.

But the last time I remember a movie using an intermission in the US was nearly 20 years ago, when I saw a rerelease of the 3-hour, 38-minute 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia at a Minneapolis art theater. That's a classic movie for sure, but midway through, a quick chance to stretch was as welcome as an oasis in the Arabian desert.

First off, intermissions are a cool throwback to the days when movies felt like a Capital E Event. Granted, I'm not dressing up with kid gloves and pearls to go see Bill and Ted 3, but still, intermissions make a film feel like a bigger deal.

Secondly, they're useful. Here's a chance to stand, maybe chat with your fellow patrons, clarify a plot point with your neighbor, or point out that the one actor who plays that one guy is also that actor who played that other guy in a different movie you saw together.

These days, you could even use the intermission break to Wikipedia that one guy and figure out what the heck else you saw him in. Check on the babysitter, post selfies to Facebook, go get some Sour Patch Kids, race for the bathroom … your time's your own. Just return to your seat in time for the film to whir back to life.

Will Avengers: Endgame utilize the almost obsolete intermission option? Marvel did not respond to a request for comment, but film critics and fans I talked to said it's about as likely as Captain America kicking a puppy.

When I spoke to Dan Gardner of bathroom-break mobile app RunPee for this story, he said he was no fan of the forced film break.

"I think an intermission is pretty disruptive to the experience," he said. "And with assigned seats and things like that I just don't see that it works logistically. The break would have to be at least 15 minutes long to be of any use. I think it just creates a mess."

He points out that an intermission might help the cinema sell more concessions, but it would also cut down on the number of showings a movie could have each day.

"I did the math, and with a three-hour runtime it's going to be a challenge to have more than four showings per screen," he said. "Who wants to leave a movie theater at 3:30 a.m.?"

That's the practical answer. But like Peter Quill and his love for cassette tapes and the Zune, I've got enough retro nostalgia in me to secretly wish for an intermission resurgence anyway. The Zune can stay dead, though.

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