The newest offering from Earbooks, Movies: Sound! Camera! Action! reinforces the fact that the publisher knows how to make fun, informative books and can integrate other forms of media better than most anyone else. The book itself is great, but the music (included on eight accompanying CDs) is the real star.
“Movies” is a hefty hardcover book that takes up a lot of space. Make no mistake, this is a coffee table book. That’s not just my opinion, it’s in the description of the back cover of the book. It’s not a knock against it, either — what’s wrong with something casual and fun that you can pick up, glance through, and learn something from at your leisure?
The pages alternate between film descriptions and annotated collections of images. Each film includes a list of vital information: country, director, producer, screenwriter, composer, run time, Oscar wins, budget, box office, and a small cast list. There’s also a brief, usually spoiler-free, summary of the film with just enough info to whet your appetite, and a mention of how the film affected the industry and/or the people involved. There’s nothing too obscure, but the book covers so much ground that you’re likely to run into something new. The back of the book contains several helpful indexes, including where directors and composers can be located in the book. Text is both in English and German for an added international flair. The image collections tend to cover more specific and esoteric subjects, such as “architecture in film” and “kisses in movies.” (Yes, the Spider-Man kiss is in there, of course.) The book is arranged in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and makes logical sense — you will never lose track of where you are in Movies because it’s laid out so well.
While the writing is detailed and accurate, it feels a bit stilted and unnatural at times. Every sentence makes perfect syntactical sense, but feels like it was translated more or less literally from German — and I get the sense that was exactly the case. It doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book, but it’s noticeable.
One of the biggest selling points of the book is the music collection – its CDs include songs from every film listed in the text. Each song is either the movie’s main theme or a notable piece and overall contains some of the most iconic music in cinema history. I have no idea who obtained the rights to get all of these songs in one place, but someone get that person a medal. Each CD, like book chapters, represents an era, and listening to how film music has evolved through these discs is a fascinating journey. The CDs also fit snugly into their holders, a piece of construction worthy of praise in and of itself.
Be warned, though — these are usually not the original songs. While it’s easy to replicate an instrumental piece or a score, the cover versions can only sound so much like the original. On disc four alone, the not-Ray Parker, Jr. “Ghostbusters” cover and the decidedly not-Monty Python version of “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” stick out like a sore thumb. I also have no idea who Chuck Colby is, but listening to him do a Randy Newman impression on “You Got A Friend In Me” is… sad. As noted earlier, music rights are a tricky beast and the collection here is still impressive, but cover versions of iconic songs do feel like a bit of a let-down. While that was disappointing, and perhaps the only true disappointment of the book, the covers aren’t bad and make for good reference material, and from that perspective are acceptable.
Movies, while far from academic or in-depth, is a ton of fun. You’re not likely to learn anything new about a movie you already love, but you might pick up a few things about film history or discover a new favorite. Even if it’s not the original versions, the music collection is impressive enough for a good look.
To get your copy of Movies: Sound! Camera! Action!, head over to the Earbooks online store (also in English and German).