In an age of three-quels it seems Hollywood output has embedded a gloomy sense of deja vu upon the masses. An optimist might say, now hold on, the last year wasn't all Hollywood guff but lots of complex, sophisticated, witty screenplays also figured strongly. This was the year Scorsese finally got his Oscar. Cinema's power to engage and spark debate keeps us going back for more, and it's also the appeal behind purchasing a reference book like Halliwell's Film Guide (buy UK, buy US).
For those unfamiliar with the annual, Halliwell's is a long running series often praised for being the biggest and best film guide and a must have for all silver screen buffs. This 30th Anniversary edition, with new editor David Gritten - head of the London Film Critics' Circle - at the helm, is crammed with more entries than any other guide (over 24,000) and over one hundred years of cinema information.
Packed with all you need to know - cast and credit listings alongside pithy commentary and review snippets - it covers international cinema, Hollywood mainstream, B-movie horrors, blockbusters, forgotten marvels and esoteric wonders. It also includes plot synopses, video cassette, laser disc and DVD availability and the all important inclusion of film taglines. Plus, reader-friendly icons denote family viewing suitability, soundtrack availability, video format compatibility and a complete history of Academy Award winners in every major category.
Gritten upholds the tradition of Leslie Halliwell and former editor John Walker to deliver the detailed knowledge, succinctness and somewhat dry wit that have always been the hallmarks of this film bible. However it does take some time getting used to Halliwell's unique star-rating system which favours zero to four rather than the more popular one to five.
Flicking through Halliwell's is a joy in itself as you come across films you'd forgotten, although the crisp layout becomes somewhat monotonous and could've done with the inclusion of some film stills, of which there are none. It's a huge, critically schizophrenic guide with masses of technical information but exasperating eccentricities. More often than not you will probably gawp at the page in sheer disbelief, perplexed at how these films are actually starred. It speaks volumes when a book will give Supergirl one star yet give none to the original Superman.
There is also a feeling of indolent grouping when it comes to a series of films which receive the same rating rather than being looked at individually - Lord of the Rings is a prime example. It's devastating when your favourite films are crushed with the seething aloofness the book offers but just as pleasurable to snigger at the opinions you agree with. But be warned that some of the summaries give away the plot.
Long established as the last word in cinema information this continually engaging guide is definitely worth giving a space on your bookshelf. Sure it's a tad old fashioned in an age where gore and guts don't faze us, but even if you don't agree with the reviews, the sheer volume of information means that it is the most comprehensive guide for reference. It is sharply opinionated, highly intelligent and entertaining.
Â© Lindsay Corr November 2008