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Cinemania Box Front

Microsoft Cinemania

A "movie-ing" experience

Microsoft's popular Cinemania multimedia movie database takes an already strong product and makes it even more of a delight for movie buffs.

Cinemania (Windows 95 CD-ROM), includes some 20,000 movie titles (so you know there'll be some real stinkers on the list, too!), cross referenced via hotlinks so you can explore all sorts of trivia. We had trouble doing a linear tour of the disc, going from title to title, because we kept getting sidetracked following links to interesting related items. For instance, a look at the James Cameron film "The Abyss," got us interested in the "Super 35" film format used in the movie. Clicking on "Super 35" brought up a tool tip with its own hotlink to a glossary of wide screen terms.

While the widescreen glossary was fascinating, we were a touch disappointed in its superficial treatment of Super 35, which is becoming quite a popular format because it allows filmmakers to frame their shots for both widescreen and TV at the same time (and since home video makes the studios as much money as theatrical releases do, it's nice to see some filmmakers taking their small screen audiences into consideration). But we digress...

You can follow these hotlinks all over the disk, until you've actually forgotten what you were originally looking for!

Cinemania's opening screen has a menu that takes you directly to the various classifications of movie (action/adventure, romance, etc.), as well as a few side trips to the "featured artist" (a profile of a big name personality), the "Cinemania Team Pick" (a favorite film of one of the Cinemania reviewing team - including a quick paragraph on why that person chose that movie) and even a trivia question of the day.

To help you make your movie-watching choice, there's an abundance of reviews from famed movie pundits Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael, and Roger Ebert. There's also a "suggestions" section that gives you a list of potential titles to watch from a pulldown menu of categories (including "acting teams," "African Americans" "Banned Movies," "Yuletide Cheer" "Zombie mania" and more). It's pretty neat. The "suggestions box" will also list movies for you based on your mood (from "a good laugh" to "stirring and uplifting") and if you can't make up your mind what mood you're in, you can pull the one-armed bandit's handle and have Cinemania choose a movie randomly. But don't blame Microsoft if it picks a real dog!

Finding movies is particularly easy if you know the one you want: you can search for a title merely by typing it in - just like a database should be.

Naturally, there is also a number of stills (1000+), audio clips (150+), and movie clips (30+). And one of the things we video snobs found most welcome about the new version of Cinemania is that the clips from widescreen movies are now letterboxed! Hooray! The last version of Cinemania we saw ('94) had pan-and-scan clips, something that always makes our flesh crawl. More about why, later...

Extra ExtrasCinemania's Opening Screen

As one might expect, there's a lot of other interesting stuff in Cinemania 97. In fact, Microsoft says you get filmographies (lists of all the films on which they worked) for some 10,000 personalities, and more than 4500 profiles of behind the scenes professionals.

You can even start your own list of favourite movies and store them on your hard drive for later retrieval, though we wonder why you'd bother using up hard drive space when any movie is only a couple of seconds away.

There are also celebrity tours of Cinemania, by the resident pundits and other celebrities. Due to our aversion to reformatting movies to fit a TV screen, we were particularly impressed with Roger Ebert, who started off one of his lectures by warning the audience that, by watching the typical home video release, they were missing up to half of what was actually in the film - thanks to the square TV picture that cuts the sides off widescreen movies. He then goes on to give a history of movie "aspect ratios" and the many widescreen monikers (from Panavision to Cinerama), and if you're a movie buff, you'll probably find it fascinating. Ebert also describes "pan and scan," which is how most widescreen movies are transferred onto videocassette and for TV release (they jerkily pan across the widescreen image in a vain attempt to capture the action - thereby giving a whole different feel to the director's vision of the film), ending with a description of the much more satisfying "letterbox" process that transfers the entire width of the picture onto the TV screen, leaving blank spaces above and below it. Bravo!


Cinemania also has an online component that homes onto the Microsoft Network's Cinemania area and offers even more stuff, including movie news and current events . You can even download updates, including more of the celebrity tours outlined above.

If you're a movie buff, or a student of the cinema, Microsoft Cinemania 97 can be an invaluable information resource. It's also a hoot.


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January 31, 2006