Full Speed Ahead

March 03, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Since I'm spending about 50% of my free time working on the ReelViews re-design, I figured it was worth at least a column to discuss the direction in which I see the site going. Admittedly, the original goal was to make a better home for the ads so they could live in harmony with the long-standing content of the site without sticking out like a sore thumb. Somewhere along the way, however, a relatively small, graphics-intensive job turned into something more far reaching. Everything about ReelViews is being turned upside down and, when the new site debuts, it will have a much different look and feel. Hopefully, however, two things will remain the same: the style of writing and the ease of use. One benefit of being an engineer by training and having an ordered mind is that I understand the need for simplicity in getting from point A to point B. That has been the hallmark of ReelViews Mark I. It will also be the hallmark of ReelViews Mark II. And for those of you who have the site bookmarked, there will be no need to change the links. They will have the same names.

From a purely visual standpoint, things will look smoother and less garish. I can promise a more polished viewing experience although I recognize that a professional graphic designer could do it better. But I work with the tools at my disposal. The ReelViews logo - I think this is the fifth in twelve years - is by the same designer who has done the last few. This is actually something he worked up a number of years ago. I dusted it off and played with the colors a little. It's simple and unobtrusive. I have completed most of the working templates for the various main pages. Previously, ReelViews was a plain vanilla html site. Now, it uses html, CSS, PHP, and MySQL. That's a lot to learn, but I have gotten help along the way.

From time-to-time, readers have urged me to go the database route, and I'm finally listening. (One pushed hard enough and I caved in.) As I write this, I'm putting the finishing touches on what will become the backbone of the reviews archive. So far, it contains a gaudy 4 reviews. If I waited for all 3600 to be added, it would be a long time before ReelViews Mark II saw the light of day. So, to get it out the door faster, I'm going to compromise. At the time of the cutover, there will only be about 800 reviews available including all of the most recent ones and everything linked to them. The archives will be gradually populated over the rest of the year so that by the end of 2008, everything will be there. ReelThoughts will undergo a similar re-population - newer stuff there to begin with; older material gradually added. The Top 100, Price novels, and Film Festival reports will all be available from the start. Some older content (pre-ReelThoughts commentaries, for example) will disappear - no one looks at it anyway. I'm streamlining content, making as much of it available at a "top level" as possible – no burrowing through layers of menus to locate something.

The site will have its own robust search engine, and that will be the primary way to get to movie titles - no more wading through alphabetical lists, although it will be possible to generate those lists if you so desire. The "archives" page will present a wide variety of ways to search – or you can just type a word in the main search box and see what comes back. One new feature will be audiocasts. I haven't decided upon the format yet - whether to make them shorter and more frequent or longer and less frequent. That's something I'll play with as I go along. I have also gotten a lot of requests to turn ReelThoughts into a forum (allowing reader comments), but I'm not ready to go that route yet. It's not on the 2008 slate; it might be something I'll consider in 2009.

The ads will still be there. They're not going away. One of the changes being made, however, is that text will load before ads (currently, it's the other way 'round). That means if there's an ad failure or incompatibility (such as what's happening now with Safari), it won't impact the reader's ability to read the reviews. The site is also being optimized with a 1024 pixel width in mind. It will work with an 800 pixel width but the front page will look crappy. (The links will be accessible and the review text will be on the left, much as is the case now.)

So when will all this happen? The current goal is May 1, although I reserve the right to move that date forward or back. Sorry if this column has bored those of you hoping I'd have something new to write about the movies, the Oscars, Blu-Ray, or naked women. I'll do my best to redeem myself over the next few days. More on the site as it rumbles toward fruition, and the heartiest thanks to those who are devoting time and energy to help.