Turning the Page

December 20, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

At the risk of sounding like I have my priorities reversed, I'm going to look ahead before looking backward. By "ahead," I'm referring to early 2009 - specifically, where the website is going in the near future. Next month, ReelViews will turn 13 and, like all teenagers, it will require careful managing and discipline. There's also the question of evolution which, in the case of this site, I hope is synonymous with "intelligent design." While I endeavor to maintain the site year-long, most of the upgrades occur early in the year. January, February, and March are good months for large-scale web production since I gain several hours per week from not having to do yard work and not watching baseball games. And, if the last two years are a sad indication of this winter, there won't be much snow to shovel, either.

The site will not undergo any radical changes during 2009. I will tweak the look based on an upgraded design submitted by a reader. For the most part, this just means things will be a little cleaner and there will be a return of the much-loved letter-clicking archive access, the deletion of which has caused much lamentation. Older reviews will continue to be migrated from the plain html format into the database. And I'll add a sitemap which should help to resolve confusion about where one feature or another can be found. On the whole, however, the basic "idea" of how the site currently exists isn't expected to change much during 2009.

There are two major upgrades that I'm looking toward in the medium-term future. The first is the often discussed Comments section. Although I still have reservations about it, I realize it's something that will be necessary to keep the site lively. There's some angst along the lines of "if I build it, will they come?" Or, to put it another way, it would be a major embarrassment if I added a place for feedback and no one participated. The hurdle is building the feature; heavy lifting as far as coding is concerned. I'll probably end up paying someone to do the work. My gut feeling is that I could do it, but I'm not sure I could do it well. Time to do some research.

The other feature, which likely won't appear before 2010, is a two-minute audio/video review. This is something I have wanted to embark upon for a while but haven't gotten around to doing. Again, this is a way to make the site a little more vibrant. It's for those who would prefer to listen to a review (while seeing a series of silent clips from the movie in question) rather than read it. Right now, bandwidth is the biggest issue with this sort of thing, but that should be worked out in the near future.

ReelViews has been a commercial zone for nearly 18 months and there have been many ups and downs with advertising. I have overcome the deep-rooted sense of guilt that accompanied the first ad I posted back in 2006, although a part of me still wishes I could wipe away all the ads and go back to where I once was. Over the months, I have attempted to address some of the most egregious mistakes I have made when it comes to commercialization. Gone are the Kontera ads, which didn't come close to paying enough to compensate for the aggravation they caused many readers. Gone also are the pop-unders. I took a financial hit for removing them but generally feel better about not having to defend something I didn't believe in strongly from the start. Hopefully, the ads are now in a "what you see is what you get" steady state, which means that I don't expect to add or subtract from them going forward. They don't pay as much as I might like (or as much as they did a year ago), but there's not a lot I can do about that. 2009 may see the addition of the amazon.com logo next to new titles on the Video Views page, generating some revenue for anyone who clicks on the link and buys the DVD/Blu-Ray. I'm skeptical that this is going to bring in much money, but it's worth a try because it won't be intrusive.

Speaking of Video Views, 2009 will see the return of new reviews of older movies. The year will hit the ground running in January with a feature about the '80s: one new review from each year of the decade for ten consecutive weeks (likely accompanied by ReelThoughts features). Likely start date: mid-January. That would mean it will complete at the end of March. After that, I'd like to do a series on Hitchcock - not all of his movies, but many of the better-known ones I have thus far not reviewed. Then perhaps another decade or another personality. Or a genre.

I will likely review about the same number of theatrical titles in 2009 as in 2008 - provided there are that many to review. There is evidence that distributors may cut back on the number of films planned for 2009 release in part because of the weakness of the economy and in part because of the dwindling appeal of lower profile films. And, while the installation of digital projectors may eventually lower distribution costs to give smaller pictures a better chance to be seen, we're not there yet. Plus, if the actors strike, studios may begin to space out the releases of "in the can" productions, further weakening the roster. Fortunately, there's no shortage of great material on DVD to see and review.

Now, having peered ahead, it's time to look back at the year gone by...