Leonard Maltin’s 2011 Movie Guide is the latest edition of the long running series of film reference guides. One of the most popular on sale, it is a relatively cheap American publication that suffers from a number of flaws.
Containing over 17,000 reviews ranging from silent classics to recent Direct to DVD releases it certainly has an interesting variety of reviews. Unfortunately there are less than 400 new entries; several recent blockbusters such as Inception and Toy Story 3 (both 2010) are notable in their absence, some readers may be annoyed by the lack of new releases. On the other hand many obscure titles ranging from little known foreign films to silent’s from the 20’s are included, virtually any genre or kind of film is represented at least once, though it’s a admirable decision on the editors part, you have to question the relevance of many of these films to the modern day audience.
The films are listed in Alphabetical order e.g. The Deer Hunter, is listed under D as Deer Hunter The. Each entry contains useful production information (Year of release, Cast and Crew etc) and trivia (alternate versions, surprise cameos, awards) it’s pretty comprehensive and very useful for reference purposes, as well as a review. Each entry follows the same format, a small paragraph typed in a simple black and white font, it makes it a clear easy to follow read. Whatever it’s other flaws this is a very well researched book, with very accurate information researched by experienced industry professionals.
The actual reviews are concise and to the point- if it’s good and why or why not, it makes it a very accessible read, though the reviews aren’t very comprehensive, and some appear to be biased or half hearted. Neither are all the reviews the same length, Gangs of New York for example is given a long paragraph whilst Memento is given half the space, its uneven and unfair, many films don’t get the coverage they deserve and the rushed nature of some of the reviews makes the critic’s opinions somewhat questionable, and hard to understand.
Films are rated BOMB for the worst through to **** for the best, it’s a simple system that seems largely accurate, however there are many questionable ratings in the book that seem out of touch with popular opinion, here are a few examples: King Kong (2005) and Hidalgo (2004) two recent blockbusters with major issues, are rated 3 ½ stars out of 4, whilst recognised classics Taxi Driver (1976) and Blade Runner (1982) are rated 2 and 1 ½ stars respectably, it’s not a major problem with the book as all opinions are personal anyway, but some readers may be infuriated by the star ratings in the book, and the seemingly strange opinions of some of the staff.
Whilst Leonard Maltin serves as Managing editor (a position he has held for decades) he is helped by a team of associates, the reviewers names aren’t credited for each film, so it’s impossible to tell who’s reviewed what, it isn’t necessarily a problem, but it would provide a clue in trying to match up some wildly diverse opinions and figure out the reviewers intentions.
The book regularly seems biased towards older films or genres, silent films seemingly merit a 3 star rating on being silent, whilst many popular blockbusters merit only 2 stars for being too similar. The relatively low number of 4 star films but high number of 3 star films is misleading as well, very few recent films have got the perfect rating despite good write ups in the book, whilst some reviews contradict there ratings. At points it’s confusing and annoying trying to work out whether they recommend the film or not.
Though you can respect his views as a critic you do get a sense that some of his opinions are out of date, very few films are revisited and recent films in general get lower ratings. Although star ratings often change between different additions- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull dropped from 3 ½ to 3 stars, this at least shows some reconsideration though it does say something negative about the books organisation and the critics memories.
Some of the reviews are very self concerned (He gives Gremlins 1 a lower rating than the second, despite the fact its better…oh yes he’s in the second…) making it hard to take his views seriously.
Costing just £9.99 in many shops the book is at first glance good value for money, there are a lot of reviews, and it’s cheaper than many of its competitors. On closer inspection problems do surface the book at over 1600 pages in length is longer than it needs to be, many films don’t merit inclusion, whilst the staff’s introductions seem more concerned with selling their careers than the book. A tighter edit could have done the book a lot of favours, 50-60 pages could go without much effect. The book is binded together well so it’s in little danger of falling apart, though the quality of the paper is questionable, its easily damaged and not particularly professional looking.
There are certainly many issues with the book, but there are also many positives. In addition to the reviews (which are entertaining and well written despite their noted flaws) the following is included: a useful list of film related addresses (DVD repair business’s, laserdisc conversion etc) an updated index of leading stars and directors film credits which is very well researched (although some of the stars are of questionable inclusion Whoopi Goldberg? BillyBob Thornton? Are they really still `stars’?) , and a list of recommended films. At just £9.99 it IS good value for money, whilst its relatively small size and well planned layout make it a easily stored, easily read book.
It is worth remembering that everything in this book-names, addresses, and release dates is based on American release and production dates, so some of the information included isn’t relevant to UK readers, and may annoy those looking for `accurate’ data. For these readers it may be worth investing in a more expensive UK equivalent such as the Radio Times Film Guide (which to be brutally honest is probably better anyway) Similarly don’t go looking for small scale UK films (e.g. Glorious 39) which don’t often get released abroad or TV films which aren’t often covered in recent additions of the book, the book covers a lot of films but isn’t and can’t be comprehensive.
As a reference guide is entirerly comprised of text, there is no room for illustraions or pictures and they would be out of place in such a book anyway. This is made clear in the book so readers wil know what they are in for.
In conclusion it is longer than it needs to be, the reviews and ratings are sometimes of questionable quality and reasoning, and it is frankly out of date in some respects. But overall this is a well written, useful book. It may not be the best or most relevant film reference guide on the UK market, but it’s possibly the cheapest and it will certainly entertain movie lovers and trivia fans alike, not an essential purchase but not a bad decision if you do buy a copy.