So, film aficionado, your venerable old Maltin Guide molted its cover long ago. Your book of Ebert reviews has been thumbed through too many times; your Pauline is imperiled by overuse; your trusty VideoHound volume is getting dogeared. And the assorted aging film encyclopedias on your bookshelf are falling apart like so much faded nitrate.
If you're like a lot of cineastes , you won't be replacing all your movie annuals with still more reams of pulp but will think about trading in those softcovers for software. CD-ROMs are increasingly the ultra-compact medium of archival choice for the computer-literate, and film information is at the head of the line for the disc drive.
Although several fine titles exist in this movie-data niche, most consumers and probably even most software store managers know of only one: the ubiquitous Microsoft Cinemania '95. (A Microsoft product dominating the market--fancy \o7 that\f7 .)
Now in its third edition, Cinemania (for Windows or Mac; retailing for $40-$60) has honestly earned its position as the 500-pound gorilla of this jungle. The CD-ROM combines several key reference works from the world of print that would be plenty useful even without all the distractingly fun multimedia accouterments such as film clips, production stills and bits of dialogue and musical scoring galore.
No fewer than three prominent critics are represented for comparison's sake: Roger Ebert pokes his digits out and up from the box cover (and is represented by 1,700 reviews therein), Pauline Kael's abridged blurbs are included for digital keeps (2,600 mini-critiques), and here, of course, Leonard Maltin \o7 is\f7 Tron (with reviews for all 19,667 listed pictures).
The reference material doesn't stop there: Complete lists of Oscar winners and nominees resolve those trivia questions in a hurry. And a database of topics provides a mini-film school education, with definitions for everything from \o7 above the line\f7 to \o7 zoopraxiscope\f7 .
The '95 edition has a new novelty, a movie roulette wheel you can spin to land on one of hundreds of sub-genre categories. If you're not the type of renter who has to ask the acne-ed video store clerk what to check out, you'll probably tire of that gimmick quickly.
Equally superfluous but more irresistibly fun are the 176 audio and 18 audiovisual clips of such notable scenes as the spacey waltz from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the lovers' spat in "Son of the Sheik." (Not that they look too impressive in a 2-inch- by-2-inch window. It's a good thing Norma Desmond isn't around to see \o7 how\f7 small the movies are getting.)
Now that we've engaged in yet another Bill Gates affirmation session, some of his competitors do have something to offer.
An increasingly strong runner-up in the consumer category is the newly updated VideoHound Multimedia 2.0 (for Windows format only; about $60), based on the VideoHound Golden Movie Retriever books, which are basically thicker and cutesier versions of what Maltin does.
This still probably wouldn't be too many folks' first choice over Cinemania, yet for families it has a slightly more kid-friendly interface, and for adult buffs who can stand the doggie icons, it offers at least one invaluable service that Microsoft's product doesn't. VideoHound retrieves a \o7 full\f7 cast list for each film, and you can click on any name and get a full list of that actor's credits--a function that, in Cinemania, is applicable only to major players. As far as powerful PC search links go, VideoHound is a bona fide pit bull.
Wisely, the company seems to have strived to provide features complementary to, not so much competitive with, Cinemania's. VideoHound includes no film clips to speak of--except for one amusingly quaint section that offers brief scenes from dog movies (Lassie, meet Asta). But it does include 650 audio clips of actors and directors discussing their work (example: Robert De Niro on gaining 60 pounds for "Raging Bull"). VHS box art is included for each title.
And VideoHound can claim 60,000 video reviews to Cinemania's 20,000 by virtue of coverage of a lot of non-theatrical titles-- in case you require a ranking, say, of celebrity buns-of-steel tapes.
Before we move on to the industry-targeted products, there are two more CD-ROM titles aimed at consumers, widely regarded as wastes of money and memory.
With Mega Movie Guide (Windows only; $40-$60), the good news, we suppose, is that it includes 42,000 reviews, and the bad news is that Rex Reed provides 1,000 of them. There are few multimedia extras, and this '94 title reportedly isn't scheduled for any updates.
Lesser regarded still is the cheapie Movie Select (Windows or Mac; now found mainly as part of a $40 10-disc Windows bundle). It arrives via Paramount Interactive; guess which studio benefits most from the film clips.