A Guided Tour

June 02, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

I was originally going to wait a few days before discussing reactions to the site redesign but, after 150+ comments, now is probably as good a time as any. I'll defer my intended topic for today - a rumination about how a combination of reliance upon formula and a desire to mimic video games and amusement parks is killing "cinema" as we know it - to another day.

The new version of the site went up at 11:30 pm EDT Saturday night without a hitch. (Unless you consider my erroneous rating of 3 stars for Speed Racer to be a hitch. ) By the time I woke up Sunday morning, the comments were rolling in. First, a tour of the site, then a survey of some of what was written.

The site is pretty much divided into four pieces: New Reviews (the homepage), ReelThoughts, Video Views, and Searches. (A fifth piece, likely to be called "Other" - which will include the Top 100, the FAQ, and some other odds-and-ends - will eventually be added.)

"New Reviews" has all the information it used to have - plus a little extra. The tradeoff here is providing more up front while sacrificing the brevity of what was there before. Since the two most often requested pieces of information about any movie (other than the star rating) are running length and MPAA Classification, I decided to put them on the main homepage. Some people like this approach; some don't. Some don't mind scrolling down to find more titles. Some dislike it.

"ReelThoughts" has been re-designed with "ease of use" in mind. The little "monthly search" marker to the right allows you to see all ReelThoughts titles for any particular month with the click of a mouse. Hopefully, the way this has been designed will encourage reading of more than just the latest topic. All ReelThoughts entries since January 2004 (when I started the blog) have been ported to the database. There's no need to revisit ReelThoughts on the old site. Currently, there are no plans to add a section for reader feedback or comments.

"Video Views" uses the "expanded" entry format of New Reviews to allow the inclusion of information about the format(s) in which a title is available. At some time in the future, there will also be links to amazon.com for those who wish to purchase a disc. Video Views will also be the "hosting" area for any new reviews of older movies - something that will pick up in the near future. I have already promised reviews of The Sure Thing and Back to the Future.

It has been suggested that I re-name "Searches" to something like" Search Archives" or "Advanced Searches." That may happen. This is in many ways the heart of the site. It allows past and current reviews and ReelThoughts to be investigated. Reviews can be searched by text word(s), title, genre, year of production (which is often, but not always, year of release), actors, directors, and # of stars. (The search function is intolerant of spelling errors, however.) There's also a new option that will allow generation of the "old" alphabetical lists. The look of this page is rough; it will eventually be "prettied up" and a few additional features will be added (such as an option to arrange the search results alphabetically or by star rating - the former is the default). ReelViews currently contains about 3600 reviews , only 1003 of which have been ported to the database. The moving process is ongoing and the counter at the bottom of the page will keep track of progress (due to complete around December 31). Until then, a link has been provided to the old site's archives in case you're looking for something that's not yet available at the new one. (The 1003 reviews include: everything from 2007 and 2008, a lot from 2006, a wide variety of older reviews, and all 105 of the "Top 100". The Top 10s from 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 are fully represented, as are the Bottom 10s.)

The ads have been positioned in such a manner as to hopefully discourage ad blindness without making them too obtrusive. There are a lot of "tricks" to make the Google ads more likely to be clicked but I'd like to try being more subtle to start rather than inserting them somewhere in the middle of a review. (They'll get noticed there, but it will piss off readers.) Ads are a partnership between the reader and the publisher. The more they're used, the less I have to worry about repositioning them.

Predictably, there are some who hate the new site. Can't stand it. Think it's clunky and a step in the wrong direction. A few pleaded with me to go back to the way things were. In the grand scheme of things, however, this only represented about 10% of the mail I got. The majority of the reactions were positive or mixed. I have already implemented a number of suggestions dealing with formatting and readability. There was also a glitch that caused the site to fail on 800x600 screens - that has been corrected. It is now possible to read all of the text without having to scroll horizontally (although the far right will be cut off). If you sent an e-mail but didn't get a response, you can nevertheless be sure I have read it and, if you made suggestions, I have considered them.

What were the three most common criticisms/complaints?
1. Bring back the alphabetical lists! This was rectified this morning. However, instead of clicking on a linked letter, there is now a little box (on the "Searches" page) in which a letter or number can be entered. It will return an alphabetized list of all titles beginning with that letter or number. 2. The ugly stars. Yes, they could be a little nicer looking, but they get the job done. Still, if anyone wants to e-mail me pretty stars, I'll be more than happy to consider them. (Remember the half-stars, though - those are tricky ones.) 3. The missing "coming soon" reviews. I'll probably re-instate these somehow, although I'm not sure how. I have some ideas. For those wondering about this week, I expect to post a review of Stuck tomorrow and You Don't Mess with Zoltan on Thursday. Next week, The Incredible Hulk will be Tuesday. I don't know yet about The Happening since a press screening has not been announced. Considering the awful word-of-mouth, I'm wondering if the distributor is going to elect not to screen this for on-line critics.

Thanks to everyone for visiting the new site and for commenting about it (even those who don' t like green). More comments and suggestions are welcome. You will likely see small tweaks from time to time as I implement ideas.