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So you want to write a review about that film you saw last night, do you? You can't remember the name of the actress who let the lead character on to the train and only had one line, but she had such an impact on the moment that you'd really like to give her a special mention. Where do you turn? Perhaps you're a film buff wanting to do a review on "Cars The Movie", but you're not sure who voiced the character Chick Hicks (it was Michael Keaton, by the way) or maybe you want to know if the director, John Lassetter, has directed other animated films (it won't surprise you to know that he did other notable Disney Pixar movies such as "The Incredibles" or "Finding Nemo"). Maybe you're curious to know if Michael J. Fox, who - sadly - is unable to work too much these days due to Young Onset Parkinsons Disease, has got any projects in the pipeline (and you'd be pleased to know that he's rumoured to be working on a pre-production of "The Talisman", an adaptation of Stephen King and Peter Straub's joint novel of the same name) or maybe you're just looking to find out something as inane as what famous actors or actresses share the samebirth-date as you. (Apparently Claudia Schiffer was born on the same day as my wife, which surprised me as I thought she was older. Claudia, of course, not my wife!)
Apart from renting some great tome from your local library or trawling Google for hours on end hoping to piece it all together, what other resource could you use that would give you access to all your movie trivia desires in one single click?
The Internet Movie Database, of course. Or IMDB, for short. From the UK, we'd log in via imdb.co.uk although it really doesn't make any difference as that is simply just a forwarding domain for imdb.com; though using the local domain will give the website some idea that you're possibly going to be looking for some UK content as well.
So what is the IMDB? In essence it is simply a repository for just about any piece of information you care to know about movies, with content referring to films made as far back as 1888: "Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge" was the imaginatively titled film by director Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince that had a staggering run time of just two seconds. Le Prince made one other film in the same year, "Roundhay Garden Scene", before his unfortunate death in 1890 at the age of 48. At the time of writing, as well as reporting on films going back as far as the late 19th century, IMDB also has information on films slated for the future, as far forward as 2009 in fact. Who says time travel isn't possible? A sequel for "Superman Returns" is on the cards for that year, as well as "The Jetsons" and roughly thirty other titles.
I defy you to find a film that isn't on there. Okay, so here's the nub, because somebody will come up with a film that is undoubtedly not on the list - the Internet Movie Database is very much focused on the Western World, with a rather heavy bias towards the US; this is, however, unsurprising when you consider how much film the US produces, both for TV and Silver Screen. Search for a UK TV show and you're likely to find what you're looking for, mind you: "Coupling", the UK sitcom that emulated Friends but was a little bit ruder, is listed on there, as is "Casualty" or "EastEnders" or even "Hustle" and "Life On Mars", all from Britain's stable. I guess you're getting the message, now. There's rather a lot of information on there.
So, if there's so much on there, surely it's confusing to use?
Well actually it's quite simple. IMDB is laid out in a very simple, predominately text-based manner. There are very few fancy graphics, very little in the way of processor-intensive complex web-pages and a fairly simple menu system, all laid out on a slightly bland white background with a yellow tinge to the menus. Across the top eight tabs provide you with entry to specialist entries:
*Now Playing* - shows you the film openings for this week (you can also navigate to later weeks to see what's coming) as well as the current top ten films being shown; however, this is where the site's biggest failing comes in. All default listings show what is a current release or a top movie in the US only; you can find the current top movies in the UK, but only by navigating around a little bit.
*Movie/TV News* - provides you with headline news from the entertainment world, taken from top websites such as HollywoodReporter.com.
*My Movies* - you can register, for free, with IMDB.com which will help the website provide you with localised information but also allows you to compile your own data about films. Under this section of the site you can list your favourite movies of all time for constant and easy reference and you can highlight forthcoming movies that you either want to classify as "Must See" or "Must Buy".
*DVD/Video* - highlights all the films coming to DVD or VHS this week and, no doubt, in the future will highlight Blu-Ray or whatever other media source films move to. I highly doubt Sony's UMD format for the PSP will feature high in the rankings, though.
*IMDB TV* - here, TV programmes that have been highlighted as favourites of IMDB users are highlighted. Users can vote to rank TV shows and movies and IMDB will then separate the wheat from the chaffe to show other users what are becoming favourites. (More about votes in a little while.)
*Message Boards* - no decent movie site would be complete without its message boards, and sure enough here's IMDB's. Registered users can use the message board to chat with other users about the site, movies, TV programmes and ask questions or look for further insight into what is going on in the movie world.
*Showtimes & Tickets* - definitely only for American users, this bit, but could be handy if you find yourself in the States and fancy going to the cinema. Simply type in the Zip Code of where you're staying (post-code to the uninitiated) or the local city and the website will provide you with information on what's showing at local theatres.
*GameBase* - this is a much smaller section linked very heavily to the Amazon website (who own the Internet Movie Database anyway), mainly aimed at attracting people who are looking to purchase movie-related computer or console games. There's very little in the section at this time.
There is one new tab that has popped up recently: IMDB-Pro. This is a section that the IMDB website has put together that will allow people to pay for extra information. If you're a serious movie fan or in some way connected to the film world, then the subscription price of just $12.95 per month (roughly £7.50) is a steal. The additional cost provides you with more in-depth movie related details, plus company directories and contact listings for anybody screen-related. Want to know how to get in touch with Jennifer Aniston (or, at the very least, her management team)? Then you'll need to subscribe to IMDB-Pro.
To the left of the page a search box allows you to simply type in the name of a movie, TV programme or actor/actress and you'll quickly be taken to matches relating to your search. Underneath the search box, on the home page, links take you to top lists, coming soons, and other pertinent movie information; however, this list changes relating to the information you are looking at in the main screen and the detail is far too comprehensive to cover in this review.
So let's see what information we can really find; let's give it a quick go and dig deep. We'll do two simple searches, both starting at the home page, just to give an example of the depths of this database. We'll start with an individual:
I'm a bit of a fan of Kirsten Dunst, she of SpiderMan fame, but I want to know more information about her and what other films she's been in. Typing her name in to the search box under the generic category of "All" results in a screen providing me with a link to the exact result, plus links to several other Kirstens, just in case I was looking for somebody else. Clicking on the correct one I'm taken to her profile - the girl is just 24 years old, having been born on the 30th April 1982 in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, USA. A mini-biography is available as well as a link to a gallery of 201 photographs of the actress. Beneath this, IMDB lists the 54 different films and TV shows that Miss Dunst has had roles in since 1989, when her acting career started, including information on the forthcoming SpiderMan 3 blockbuster. From this list I decide I want to see what role she had in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode entitled "Dark Page" in 1993, and it appears that she played the part of a character called Hedril...
So we can follow the career of an actor or actress, but now I want to find out more about an old favourite film of mine, "No Man's Land"; I want to know a bit about one of the lead actors who I haven't seen in anything else. I type the film title into the search box and study the results. Since 1964 there have been fourteen different films with the same title, so it's a little more complicated for me to figure out which one I want; however, each title lists the year of production next to it and also indicates whether it was actually a TV episode or not. I know the film I want stars Charlie Sheen and I know that it's a while since I've seen it so I know that it's not the one made in 2001. I click on the 1987 title and bingo, here's the film I want, directed by Peter Werner who I discover, with a little navigating on his name, has directed 59 different projects across the big and small screens, including an old favourite TV show of mine, Nash Bridges, which starred Don Johnson.
But I digress, D.B. Sweeney is the actor I'm looking for from this particular film, who starred alongside Sheen in what was undoubtedly the original "Fast And The Furious" movie. It seems he's been quite busy since '87 and IMDB has 25 different photos of him in their gallery. He's just finished filming something called "Yellow" and in 2000 worked alongside Brooke Shields in a film called "After Sex". Brooke Shields is now 41 years old, having been born on 31st May 1965 and is currently working on a Sci-Fi comedy called "The Last Guy On Earth", which is being directed by Jim Fitzpatrick and also stars the rather gorgeous Yasmine Bleeth, who really made her name sporting a red bikini in "Baywatch" but who actually started out her acting career in 1980 with a film called "Hey Babe!"... oh, I could go on, I really could; there are so many different links and relationships I could put together using this site, but you'll soon get bored if you're not already.
Once you've found the film you're interested in, and if you're a registered user, you can leave comments and rank the film by voting, thereby giving other users an opportunity to see your thoughts and use the star rating (out of ten) to decide whether the film is worth seeing or buying or simply waiting for Channel 4 to show it in the wee hours of the night when you're suffering a cold and can't sleep. With literally hundreds of thousands of users you can really build up a picture of what is good and what is not. ("Toy Story", for example, is rated 8 stars out of 10 by 60'158 different users.) Quite impressive, then.
The crux of it is this: if you are in any way remotely interested, what- or how-so-ever, in movies then there's only one place you should go to to answer your movie trivia questions: imdb.co.uk Yes, it's a little insipid in its appearance and yes there's a little too much text in a relatively small font but how else is it going to deliver such a vast amount of detail? Yes, it's a little USA-centric (although there's a lot of UK data on there too and it does offer up language services in Italian and German too) and no, it doesn't list any porn films, but with literally tens of thousands of films listed, categorised across 27 different genres (not including 'adult'), I think there are plenty of movies for you to look up.
It's easy to use and the load time of each screen is pretty quick; it's very rare that I find myself having to wait for requested screens to appear. There are a couple of adverts but none that are intrusive or a pain in the butt and they're usually tucked neatly away in one of the side frames. For a free resource it is phenomenal and it has what is really important in a website: stickiness. Once you start searching for something you can find yourself spending hours tracking an actor's career or flicking from one genre to another or linking directors of one movie with producers of another and before you know it your wife's divorced you, your dinner's in the dog and your mates at the pub think you've been abducted by aliens. I don't think the IMDB-Pro subscription service isrelevant for the site's general users, but die-hard movie fans (and fans of the Die Hard movies, I suppose) or anybody remotely involved in the industry will find this particular section great value. At the moment, IMDB are offering the Pro service on a two-week free trial, so you can check it out for yourself, but be aware that they take your credit card details at the start so it's important that you remember to cancel your subscription otherwise you'll find yourself with another debit on your bank account.
All you've got to do now is think of a movie you want to look up. I'd start with the A's and work your way through...