Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Web Sites for Movie and Television Buffs

There are times when mass media historians like myself need a bit of help. Very few of us have the money to buy every single book necessary to our research (some of which can be on subjects that are obscure at best). And we don't always have time to traipse down to the local library and check out the necessary books. Indeed, if one lives in a small town many times the local library won't have the necessary books. This is where the Internet becomes an indispensable tool. As the case is, many of these web sites with information on movies and television will also be of interest to people other than mass media historians or pop culture buffs.

Perhaps the best known web site dealing with movies and television is the Internet Movie Data Base, better known simply as IMDB. I first discovered IMDB not long after I first got online in 1997. It was launched on October 17, 1990. IMDB originated from two different lists started in 1989 in the Usenet newsgroup.rec.arts.movies. Eventually Col Needham of Manchester, England would combine the two lists to create the earliest version of the Internet Movie Database. In the beginning IMDB listed over 10,000 movies and TV shows. It would grow even more in succeeding years, adding trivia, biographies, plot summaries, and so on. By 1995 it would become its own company, incorporated in the UK as the Internet Movie Database Ltd. Eventually it would be bought by Amazon in 1998.

IMDB is perhaps the movie and TV buff's best friend. It has been exceedingly rare that I have not been able to find a movie or TV show on the site. In those instances where I haven't, I have to wonder that I simply didn't try searching for the wrong thing. At times errors do crop up on IMDB, but it seems to me that these are often corrected very swiftly. My only complaint about IMDB is that their new look, which I really don't find appealing. Fortunately, they are allowing registered users to still use the old page design while taking feedback on the new one. With any luck, they'll simply stick with the old look.

Another website I have found particularly useful is Box Office Mojo. My best friend turned me onto it about three years (which says something since he tends to be the least Internet savvy person around). Box Office Mojo began in August 1998. Box Office Mojo is most useful in tracking the box office revenue of a movie. Over the last few years I have found it to be the most reliable site when it comes to learning about how well any given movie has done at the box office. Indeed, one can compare how well two different movies did at the box office. It makes it very easy to track box office trends. Box Office Mojo also features articles on movies, as well as reviews of movies.

Sadly, the reviews of movies are my second least favourite part of Box Office Mojo. Resident critic Scott Halleran writes the majority of reviews for the site. I am not sure I have ever seen him give a good review of a movie (my best friend and I have joked about what his review of Citizen Kane might look like...I could picture him saying it was "pretentious" and that the plot was "too complex..."), leading me to wonder if he even likes movies. I am not alone in my distaste of Halleran as a critic. His review of the critically acclaimed The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had Box Office Mojo's users ready to form a lynch mob. My least favourite part of Box Office Mojo are its pop up ads, which somehow get around my pop up blocker on Firefox. I really wish they would simply do away with the pop ups and rely on banner ads alone.

Another useful site is Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes was launched in 1998 and takes its name from the vaudeville practice of throwing rotten tomatoes at particularly bad performers. As might be expected from its name, the emphasis in the site is on reviews. Rotten Tomatoes features reviews not only from top critics, but even from lesser known critics from smaller venues (anyone here ever hear of the Palo Alto Weekly outside of California?). More importantly, it gives the common film buff a say, letting users rate movies and even post their own reviews. It is fascinating to see the contrasts between the opinions of critics and users at times. For instance, 87% of critics gave Brokeback Mountain good reviews, contrasted with only 84% of users. On the other hand, only 47% of all critics gave Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End good reviews, contrasted with 76% of users. Of course, Rotten Tomatoes doesn't just let users post reviews. In some respects it is the MySpace of film geeks. Users can create their own profiles and even post their own blogs (which they call journals). You can see mine here. I don't know ultimately how useful knowing the tastes of critics or even other film buffs with regards to specific movies really is, but the site certainly is fun.

Of course, most film buffs want to watch movies and TV shows as well as read about them, which means one must buy or rent the DVDs. The Internet lets one do this as well. When it comes to buying DVDs, I prefer Amazon to Barnes and Noble. While Barnes and Noble has a great selection, one cannot find used DVDs there whereas one can do so on Amazon. Of course, in some respects Amazon has gone down hill of late. They have done away with Favourites, which I always found useful in finding Recommendations. And they have implemented the use of Tags, which I not only find useless but downright annoying in that anyone can post them. I am hoping that user feedback might persuade them to do away with Tags and bring back Favourites.

Naturally, no film buff wants to buy movies he has never seen. It then becomes a good idea to rent them. Sadly, one cannot always find rare, obscure, or older films at the local video store. This is where Netflix comes in use. One can simply choose the movies one wants to see and Netflix will send them to you through the mail. One can also buy used movies at Netflix, which can sometimes be cheaper than Amazon or Barnes and Noble! I got my copies of Steamboy and House of Flying Daggers that way. There is also Blockbuster, run by the video store chain of the same name. I have never used Blockbuster, but my best friend did for a short time. He said that it was useful only if one had no video stores in one's own area (we do) and only wanted to rent the most popular films. When it came to rare or obscure movies, one might as well forget finding them on Blockbuster.

Anyhow, those are my favourite movie and TV show sites. I am sure that there are more out there, but these are the ones I rely on as sources of information and ways to buy or rent movies.


Beth said...

Yes, Blockbuster: Boo! Hiss!

I went there one night looking for "Working Girl." It was nowhere to be found. I asked about it. I was told that they don't have room in the stores to keep so many tities.

"Working Girl"?! It's kind of a classic. I wasn't looking for some obscure subtitled film from Taiwan or something. And seriously, a DVD case takes up, what?, a half-inch of space on a shelf?

These days, I only go to Blockbuster to buy used movies to add to my collection. Otherwise, it's all Netflix, all the time. Not that Netflix is perfect, but in principle, it's better than Blockbuster.

Mercurie said...

And the sad fact is that their online service is apparently not much better if my best friend is to be believed. Okay, I can understand not having a lot of older movies in the store, there being limited space. That doesn't mean I like it, of course. But then, the online service?! It doesn't make sense to me.

d. chedwick bryant said...

Working girl is a classic, it is Harrison Ford for one thing-- there used to be a place in NYC that filed dvds according to actor as well as title, so you could buy all of your Johnny Depps in one go.

A few critics ripped "Finding Neverland" apart based on their (wrong) assumption that JM Barrie somehow contributed to Peter's eventual suicide by molesting him. But by all accounts Peter was a very depressed person period, and Barrie tho somewhat childish was attracted to fragile women. perhaps child-like women

anyway a couple of really negative reviews were out there.

Depp also got a few bad reviews for "Blow" --simply for aging in the film !