Friday 28 January 2011

The Bookshelf: mattes, miniatures and trick shots

Blog update: My 18 and 24 year old sons both constantly badger me that my blogs are way too long, drawn out and overblown, and they try to convince me that nobody these days would be bothered to read anything that requires more than the cursory glance and click - this is coming from the twitter-facebook type generation of which they apparently belong!  They try (to no avail) to sell me on the notion that I should do lots of tiny little blog entries, so as not to burden the concentration levels and reading capacity of the blog visitor out there in cyber land.  This is a constant source of dispute in my house folks..... hell, I don't have any comprehension of this Facebook-Twitter 'kiddie keyboard candy' to begin with, and to be honest, nor do I care one iota. I don't even own a cell phone so that should tell you something.  I couldn't imagine trying to reconfigure my blog to suit the vagueries of the i-pod brigade.  What sayeth the readership?

These blogs are very much a sudden burst of frenzied typing all in one marathon session kind of deal for me.  Like my painting attempts, and other pursuits it's much of an extended period of pondering about how to put it together and, when my mood is agreeable, to that outburst of energy to actually produce the item at a mad rate of knots, before the whole notion starts to lose momentum. It's very much an on the spot, all or nothing, balls to the wall, take it or leave it kind of a deal...which kind of part way explains the numerous typo's.  :(

The most exciting thing I've found since doing this blog is the people who contact me who have some amazing things they want to share.  Of late I've been in contact with a collector of all things  pertaining to DeMille's TEN COMMANDMENTS, and within his substantial collection is a reel of original John P.Fulton raw effects footage shot in the huge purpose built tank on the Paramount backlot for the parting of the Red Sea.  This colour footage is sensational and shows some of the various elements being shot for the final multi-layered optical composite.  I've selected various frames from the reel and put them together with some of the final comp frames for comparison, and these are now on my John Fulton blog page, so if that set piece is your idea of a great moment in cinema, go check it out.

I've had a number of sensational Hi-Rez photos of glass paintings sent to me by my pal David Stipes too.  These date back to the 80's and have been in safe storage in Arizona since then.  There are several wonderful Matthew Yuricich mattes among others which Matt did for David's company, David Stipes Productions on shows such as THE THORN BIRDS, HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN and the television series V.  I'll publish some of these together with a few rare MGM and Shepperton mattes in my next blog which will be titled: 'The Painters Art - Mattes Up Close' whereby I'll have detailed close ups from various selected mattes for the true afficienado to examine and to enjoy the skills of the glass artist.

I've added several interesting photographs of the miniature sets created by Gene Warren and Wah Chang to my TIME MACHINE blog, which are intriguing as they are reasonably large models yet they still photographed so poorly in the final film, with cringe inducing lack of focal depth.  
Also I've put a great Blu-Ray image of the wonderful train station Schuftan shot from Murnau's SUNRISE on the page dedicated to that film.  The image quality is incredible, especially considering that it's a silent film some 83 years old!
On my Albert Whitlock page I've added some nice mattes that Al did of New York city in his early days at Universal, for the Doris Day comedy THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963).  Also from Whitlock, I've added a sensational pre-comp glass painting from EARTHQUAKE -  a real stunner.
On my War Films Effects blog I've added some nice behind the scenes Wally Veevers-Ted Samuels model set ups from one of my all time favourite Cold War thrillers, THE BEDFORD INCIDENT - a bona fide masterpiece!


The Bookshelf:  mattes, miniatures and trick shots

On with today's blog in which I'll attempt to review, and in many cases, promote the best from the NZPete Library - the various books, manuscripts and journals dedicated to traditional special effects from my collection.  I'm not covering everything, as some publications may have just a few pages on effects work or a couple of photos in an otherwise non-fx related work, though I'll mention those which I deem relevant.  Hopefully this will serve as a good guide to the prospective seekers of such publications and those looking for the better published material out there.  These reviews are in alphabetical order and are 'rated' out of five stars in excellence (or not!) as follows:
***** a masterpiece of the field - every enthusiast should own this!
****   very highly recommended - of considerable value to the fx fan and historian.
***     good, though not without it's flaws - generally of interest.
**       fair only with nothing you didn't already know -  a starting block text only.
*         essentially worthless

CENTURY 21 FX   by Alan Shubrook  2007    154 pages    hardcover
As a lifelong fan of the old Gerry Anderson shows of the sixties, how could I not include this wonderful inside story of the Century 21 Visual Effects Unit as told by one of it's own inside men, model maker Alan Shubrook.  Alan was there from the THUNDERBIRDS days onward and, as a result of constant prompting by family and friends to "publish a book on it" Alan did in fact do so in 2007.  A fabulous book I'd highly recommend for anyone interested in the Derek Meddings era (and practically everyone of my generation who's got even a passing interest in effects work will share my opinion I'm sure).  Packed with rare, never before seen photos, taken for the most part by Alan, who when not making models served as the Century 21 official photo journalist.  Lots of great anecdotes, funny stories, awesome International Rescue machinery that still spellbinds this reviewer 45 years after the fact.  One sensational book, nicely put together and printed on high quality paper, it's certainly a volume I frequently dip into.  Very cool *****

AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER  long running magazine     usually around 100-150 pages 
I've got boxes full of these and they have generally been quite interesting, having been in publication since around 1927, though the journal isn't what it used to be since the death of premier film historian and 'encyclopaedia' of American visual effects, Mr George Turner who, for me, made the magazine a vital read.  I'm far more enthusiastic about certain issues than the magazine as a whole to be honest, with a few of my favourites shown in the photo here.  Good visual effects coverage of big films was my main bait to track down these things, and back in the day that was next to impossible here in NZ and I would have to wait for one of my then yearly visits to the US to buy a stack of back issues from Larry Edmunds Movie Bookshop on Hollywood Blvd.  More recent issues (from the 80's and 90's) always had a retrospective article by George Turner in almost every issue where films such as VERTIGO, SABOTEUR or REBECCA for example were covered, and it was these which interested this reviewer. The special Making of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS issue is still  a favourite for me. I haven't picked up an issue in some years now as the retro writing isn't up to scratch now that Turner has gone, and most of the films now I simply don't care enough about to want to read up on. ** / ****

THE ASC TREASURY OF VISUAL EFFECTS   by George Turner and Linwood Dunn   1983   302 pages  hardcover.        What can I say.... the aforementioned historian and authority on visual fx George Turner put together this astonishing volume in 1983 which is a reprint of many, many classic visual effects articles from the pages of American Cinematographer from over the past  five decades with films such as THE INVISIBLE MAN, GONE WITH THE WIND and EARTHQUAKE being among the numerous chapters.  To supplement the classic articles, Turner and Dunn have commissioned a number of articles on the overall field of effects cinematography by such luminaries as L.B Abbott, Frank Van Der Veer and Howard Anderson to name but three.  Packed with invaluable information from cover to cover, The ASC Treasury is a joy to own (even though mine has no dust jacket - but that's fine as I got it in exchange for some old James Dean lobbycards) with my personal favourite chapter being the amazing and comprehensive Clarence W.Slifer article on the matte work for GONE WITH THE WIND.... not only a wonderful technical article but a warm,  very personal reminiscince from one of the industry's great effects men on his huge input on one of the greatest effects shows of all time.  My only reservations with this book is the relatively poor printing quality with stills often carelessly re-produced such as every single Yuricich matte from LOGAN'S RUN being flopped the wrong way around, and the very poor selection of photographs inexplicably used in the Whitlock article on EARTHQUAKE whereby virtually none of the original magazine article frames of matte art are reprinted, and to add insult to the injustice, a non Whitlock shot is printed not once, but twice - with one of these being a full page illustration of the famous JC Backings backdrop.  With that complaint out of the way, I still feel compelled to offer my strongest recommendation to add this to ones library, if you can find it. *****

74 pages  hardcover
This is a very nice, hardcover bound reprint of the original out of print 1982 Cinefex issue dedicated exclusively to the Ridley Scott film BLADERUNNER.  I'll discuss Cinefex in the relevant review further below, but can say here that there is no better analysis of visual effects work in this show than here in this book.  As with all such articles, publisher and key writer Don Shay covers the process in enviable detail and presents the findings in a solid technical manner, probably not as reader friendly to the regular curious film fan, but certainly vital to all practitioners in the field and those with a good basic grasp of the art.   Certainly one of the finest visual effects films of all time as far as this reviewer is concerned (even if it is a tad dull at times) BLADERUNNER was unjustly neglected at the 1982 Oscars whereby that freaking bug eyed little bastard ET stole the award through the insufferable 'cute puppy' syndrome that seeps through the AMPAS decision making process...but don't get me started on bloody Oscar injustices (see Andy, I still managed to get that into this blog!).  A masterpiece of art direction and visual fx design - an example that new age film makers would be well advised to look at and consider - BLADERUNNER is utterly flawless in each and every front/backlight optical comp and miniature shot - often mind bogglingly so.  Messr's Trumbull, Dryer, Stewart, Stetson and the Yuricich bothers achieved the unachievable here - with several pages dedicated exclusively to Matthew and Rocco's wonderful matte art as well as the backstory of the trials and tribulations of EEG insistance of the use of internegative dupe stock for matte comps this Don Shay study beautifully demonstrates this.  Highly recommended technical low down that never panders to the popularist brigade.   *****

A CENTURY OF MODEL ANIMATION   by Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton  2008   240 pages  hardcover.     Also published with the title A CENTURY OF STOP MOTION ANIMATION this glorious tome covers it all - from the earliest pre-O'Bie stop motion experiments right the way through Harryhausen, Danforth and Warren to the wonderful work of Randall William Cook and Phil Tippett to name but a few.  A stunningly well researched and extremely readable volume with so much to offer the student of SMA and the fan alike.  Seemingly hundreds of rare stills, many of which I've never seen before, and many great pieces of history revealed and celebrated.   The Willis O'Brien chapter is my favourite and a number of facts are revealed that I wasn't away of.  My only quibble is where Pete Peterson is mentioned here (and in other similar books) Ray seems, in the past decade or so, to progressively downsize Peterson's input in regard to the SMA of MIGHTY JOE YOUNG to the point where I wonder whether Pete will end up being  written out of the film's making in future articles altogether?  *****

CHEAP TRICKS AND CLASS ACTS     by John 'J.J' Johnson   1996   
405 pages  softcover
There have been some disparaging comments on the net about Johnson's book, though I rather liked it, even though the design, layout and quality of paper left a lot to be desired.  Basically a celebration of the fabulous fifties, Cheap Tricks is an interesting look at those wonderful and not so wonderful monster and sci-fi flicks we all know and love.  The book is divided into 26 chapters with such diverse topics as 'Full Scale Live Action Monsters', 'Miraculous Mattes and Split Screens' and 'Fiendish Facial Makeovers' with many references to the work of Paul Blaisdell and others of his school.  There is a great filmography with very useful credit listings for some pretty obscure films as well as some major George Pal shows.  There's also a great  checklist of fx personel with a good run down of names associated with these shows, especially many of the Universal effects people who turned out so many Creature features in the 50's.  On the downside is the poor choice of illustrations and the third rate quality still reproduction, though these were slightly better in the initial hardcover edition.  Also thumbs down for the price, which being a MacFarlane book is typically exorbidant and out of reach for the average punter.  The layout makes for a difficult read, but it's a still useful reference book.    ***

CINEFANTASTIQUE   edited by Frederick S.Clarke   quarterly magazine     60 - 100 pages
I've got a carton filled with these magazines, mostly from the late 70's and 80's and certain issues have always been a constant source of information and factual matter, while others are drab stapled collections of PR releases and not alot more.  Editor and founder Clarke had, in essence a great journal, with the few very formative issues of the early years I've looked at being tremendous and one of a kind examinations of films such as the PLANET OF THE APES series and so forth, written with authority and substance at a time when there really wasn't much else to chose from.  
The journal has had it's highs and it's lows, with the halcyon days of those incredible, exciting special double issues that almost entirely dedicated an entire, fat 100 page issue to a single important film such as STAR WARS or CE3K..... wow, those were the days.... great films, and unequalled coverage of the making of these iconic shows. The double issues, often penned by Paul Sammon, were unparalleled in excellence with in depth interviews of so many key effects people on these shows such as Edlund, Dykstra, Muren, Jein, Trumbull, Yuricich, Kuran and others with barely a stone being left unturned.  The special issue devoted entirely to the Anthony Shaffer 1973 masterpiece THE WICKER MAN remains one of my all time favourites.
The special doubles on John Carpenter's THE THING, Disney's20'000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and especially THE BLACK HOLE were also memorable, with the latter being one of the all time best coverages of any fx show ever - even though I thought the film was pretty lousy itself.  The interviews alone are superb, with extensive coverage on the matte art side of the show and lots of before and after pics and shots in progress. (see above spread).  This also featured a wonderful career look at and interview with the great Peter Ellenshaw.  Sadly, the regular single issues were rarely up to the same standard, and aside from the rare few good articles and some effects coverage the mag tended to slip downhill as the years went by.  I'm not sure if it's still active?  ** / ***** 

CINEFEX   edited by Don Shay     quarterly magazine    60-100 pages
I've alluded to Don's incredible journal above in the BLADERUNNER book review and confirm the solid substance of this publication, even though I've not bought one in years as the coverage of CG work with endless pictures of artisans sitting in front of Mac's and such like bore me to the point of wanting to slit my wrists - not to mention that the current crop of fx films do nothing for me, although in saying that, I can happily report that the frequency of such illustrations has thankfully diminished of late, with pages better utilised for more on set pictures.
That said, the 60 or 70 issues I have are great and I often pull one out to re-read the aspects of a certain film or special look at, for example the ILM 'The First 10 Years' issue and the conversation with Dennis Muren, the RETURN OF THE JEDI issue, The specials dealing with Dick Smith and Rick Baker or the Dream Quest article, which is a particular favourite of mine.  In later years there were some good issues such as the 2001 retrospective which is great, though, as with so much surrounding that landmark film, sadly lacking in decent photographic behind the scenes imagery (I believe Kubrick just didn't agree with trick set up photos) and a two part 'The State of the Industry' special which is a fascinating account of 'what was and what is' in the visual effects community as revealed in a huge multi participant series of interviews with people such as Bill Taylor, Harrison Ellenshaw, Richard Edlund and Richard Taylor to name a few.  Very interesting!  I love the layout of the mag, the photos are carefully selected and very well reproduced, and for the most part, is well written.  If any kindly sole out there has the Willis O'Brien issue and wants to either sell it or send me a xerox copy, I'd be very grateful.  :)   ****

DIGITAL DOMAIN    by Piers Bizony    2001  250 pages   hardcover
I really only picked this up as it was going for $25 at a bargain outfit.  It's not that it's a bad book, it's pretty good of it's type, but more so that for the most part the films in the Digital Domain catalogue just hold so little interest to me personally and the making of X-MEN and THE FIFTH ELEMENT are of no interest to me - and that's just my own viewpoint.  The book has a limited chapter on conventional special effects which is a disaster as virtually all of the illustrations are printed 'flopped' with everything the wrong way around with BEN HUR 's matte looking just plain bizarre, which for a big hardcover prestige volume unforgivable.  Not only that, but a brief bit on Whitlock is not only 'flopped' as well but has those same non-Whitlock EARTHQUAKE backdrop shots displayed that I've alluded to earlier.  Apparently the frequent linking of this particular EQ backing was a constant bug bear to Al, yet it keeps on cropping up.  Not a particularly memorable book as far as I'm concerned, though the APOLLO 13 material was great.             **

ELLENSHAW UNDER GLASS    by Peter Ellenshaw with Bruce Gordon and David Mumford.  2003  340pages   hardcover
Well, what can I say..... I'm a lifelong dedicated fan of Peter's art and film work and I already have a copy of his previous volume The Garden Within (1996) so was Ellenshaw Under Glass any good?  You betcha!  A marvellous memoir, told in Peter's own idiosyncratic, self deprecating way, and it's a delightful book.  I've long admired Ellenshaw, not just for his exceptional matte and fine art and also as a family man with a rich backstory, and this book covers it all in an easy to digest and frequently amusing way.  We learn alot about Peter's mentor and stepfather, the legendary curmudgeon and extraordinary matte artist Walter Percy Day and his influence that set the career path of young Ellenshaw on track to fame and fortune.  This is one of those coffee table books one can pick up at any time and flick through to a tale or two at random and sit back and enjoy isolated moments at a whim.  There is plenty of material contained within detailing Ellenshaw's matte career and many, many fine illustrations of both glass art and conceptual art from many Disney productions and earlier spectacular work such as QUO VADIS.  Great stuff! ****

FANTASCENE   edited by Robert and Dennis Skotack   1976      magazine
Published by then young sci-fi fan boys, and soon to be Oscar winning effects experts in their own right, the Skotack brothers put out several issues of this great little self funded and published fanzine that filled a void in the seventies where there just wasn't much else around dealing with genre films and visual effects.  I only ever heard of and found this mag in the late 90's at Larry Edmunds Movie Bookshop in LA and was immediately impressed.  Chock filled with no nonsense journalism and excellent interviews, such as a wonderful piece with Jim Danforth and likewise a long, well illustrated article on the careers of 50's fx team Jack Rabin and Irving Block all in the same issue.  I've only ever come across two issues, but these are frequently taken down from my shelf and re-read for sheer enjoyment.  They did an issue on the making of THIS ISLAND EARTH I believe, though I've never managed to see that copy......does anyone have it?      ****

FILM FANTASY SCRAPBOOK   by Ray Harryhausen       1980 edition   175 pages  softcover
As a fan of Harryhausen it's great that there are so many publications out there about Ray and his films, with this one probably being the first such book when it initially appeared around 1974.  A slim, easy read, the book covers all of Ray's features and some of his Puppetoons in a somewhat deliberately vague manner which makes no attempt to explain Ray's Dynamation process nor optical effects other than in a strangely guarded "we used some movie hocus pocus to create that shot" style.  Some nice miniature sets and creatures are shown here.
Still a good book for Ray's fans though the self imposed iron curtain Ray put up to shield his magic would be broken soon enough with other books, most importantly  the brilliant Master of the Majicks, which will be discussed later in this review.***

FILMING THE FANTASTIC    by Mark Sawicki      2007  295 pages   softcover
Author Mark Sawicki has a pedigree - a matte cinematographer at Illusion Arts for around a decade, which places him in an ideal spot to assemble what is largely a how to manual on visual effects cinematography for the adventurous amateur or semi-pro film maker.  This instructional book covers all aspects of fx camerawork with a decent chapter on matte painting and the processes used at Illusion Arts to create many of the trick shots.  Much of the book demonstrates how simple forced perspective tricks, green screen and low end technology can pull off many decent effects shots. Not for all tastes nor interests, but certainly one for budding student film makers with a vfx bent. Has some nice Illusion Arts matte paintings in there as well.  Of course being a MacFarlane publication you'll need to mortgage your house to obtain a copy, but at least it's a better print quality than most of their stuff.            ***

FILM MAGIC     by David Hutchinson   1987   168 pages  softcover
Hutchinson was responsible in the late 70's and early 80's for the special effects coverage in Starlog magazine as I recall and this little paperback is an okay introduction into the sfx world.  There's alot of Apogee related stuff in here and a decent chapter on matte painting that focuses on Rocco Gioffre and Matthew Yuricich's work in the early 80's with a few pictorial examples of Gioffre's Dream Quest glass shots.  No great shakes as a technical run down, but says what it has to, clearly and consisely and includes an FX filmography at the back which is reasonable I guess in an otherwise unremarkable entry.     **

FILM TRICKS   by Harold Schechter and David Everitt    1983     
190 pages  softcover
Despite an annoying typeface and three column layout that's hard on the eyes this is a pretty good coverage of the history of the SPX artform from the beginnings through to the early 80's.  Various chapters cover the early talkies, the sci fi genre and disaster pictures.  The key players such as Gordon Jennings, John Fulton and Arnold Gillespie are well represented here. A number of key effects personalities are interviewed with Al Whitlock's comments pertaining to some of his effects shots being particularly interesting  to this reviewer.  I've managed to pick alot of great bits of info from this book over the years, with some material never having appeared elsewhere, which is refreshing for this sort of popular styled text. ****

HOLLYWOOD TRICKS OF THE TRADE      by Alan McKenzie and Derek Ware    1990   160 pages   hardcover
One of those generic 'how they did it' type books that are seen from time to time, and it's all pretty familiar and unexceptional with nothing here you won't already know.  Divided into three parts - SPX, stunts and make up fx, the book has plenty of glossy colour pictures though is really just an entry level piece and holds no particular gravitas. Unmemorable.   **

INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC - THE ART OF SPECIAL EFFECTS  by Thomas G.Smith   1986   280 pages  hardcover
One of, if not the best books ever published on visual effects, simple as that!  I remember my jaw hitting the floor and a sudden adrenaline rush when I initially saw this masterpiece, still sealed in cellophane at a bookstore in Auckland back in the 80's.  I recall asking the (rather cute) sales girl if  I could open and examine this pricey (NZ$125 as I recollect)  must-have miracle delivered from  the realms of my imagination into my very own trembling hands.  Page after page after page of the highest quality photographs I could ever have wished for,with all facets of the ILM machine covered in depth.  Cost was not a factor.... i simply had to have this tome at any cost! It was everything this reviewer could ever have wished for.  Author Tom Smith was at he time general manager of ILM so he was the ideal person to put together this mammoth tribute - and a splendid job he did at that.  Not a page is wasted in covering pretty much every aspect pertaining to the birth and growth of this Lucas factory - the Titan of the visual fx community.
All of the productions to date are featured here, as are a considerable number of the key technicians responsible.  Among the chapters are, of course, a brilliant matte painting section with terrific reproductions of many memorable ILM matte shots as well as extremely well written material on Chris Evans and Mike Pangrazio.  Seriously, this book is as good as it gets, and has been a source of joy and constant inspiration for me for over 20 years.  Fantastic in every respect and a joy to behold.   *****

INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC - INTO THE DIGITAL REALM   by Mark Cotta Vaz   1995  280 pages  hardcover
Well, it was inevitable that a follow up book be published to celebrate the next phase of the operation at ILM.  Book 2 is also a marvellous work, though not without it's flaws, such as a few questionable labels on some photographs such as an illustration from THE GOLDEN CHILD purporting to be a finished matte frame from the film, whereas I'm pretty sure it's just a piece of fx conceptual art.  Likewise for a shot from WILLOW which again claims to be the finished matte composite when it's quite clear that it's almost certainly an art director's oil sketch  with the live action portion literally cut and pasted onto it as a conceptual guide to the matte artist.  These flaws aside I still hold the volume in high regard, largely due to the exquisite resolution of the hundreds of colour frames and stills which, like volume one, are a sight to behold.  A fascinating filmography is also included which gives a rundown of all of the fx shots ILM completed, with some invisible patch up jobs coming as total surprises.  As with part one there are a number of beautiful gate fold colour plates of mattes and optical composites which are spectacular.    *****

THE INVISIBLE ART - THE LEGENDS OF MOVIE MATTE PAINTING  by Craig Barron and Mark Cotta Vaz   2002  
300 pages   hardcover
What can I say...THE book that I'd dreamed of... the book that seemed to take an eternity to finally hit the bookstore shelves but when it did, that interminable wait seemed worth it.  Hats off to Mr Barron and Mr Cotta Vaz for realising this project and producing such a masterpiece on the artform - the only book of it's kind to do so.  Utterly readable and re-readable with not just a singular focus on the art form but as much a focus upon the unique personalities of the people involved, with the Matthew Yuricich chapter dealing with the eccentric and arguably bizarre Warren Newcombe being my personal favourite among the many, many gems.  Beautifully designed and set out in the cinematic eye pleasing 1.85:1 format which just adds to the glory of the content, which also contains a CD-ROM with several demonstrations of the matte process in action (although I've just been alerted to the fact that these were omitted from later consignments for some reason).  Barron spent much of his early career tirelessly assembling interview tapes of so many wizards, almost all of whom have now passed on, making the historic value of this work all the more vital.  Kudos Craig and Mark for a job well done. My only complaint is that a chapter could have been devoted to the British matte industry rather than the couple of pages, and that the book overall could easily have been another 50 pages longer as I know from Craig himself that a great many glass shot photographs had to be dropped at the last minute to please the publisher.       *****


FROM THE LAND BEYOND BEYOND    by Jeff Rovin      1977  
278 pages  softcover
One of my most read and thumbed through old effects books is this pleasing tribute to the work of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen by one of their biggest fans, Jeff Rovin.   I've got alot of time for this book - all the films are covered in depth and the illustrations are great even though the choice of paper and binding isn't the greatest.  I like Rovin's style and I heartily recommend this for fans of Ray and O'Bie.  Even Whitlock gets a look in with some choice pictures, as does Ernie Farino, another epic fan and himself a future biographer of Ray.  Lots and lots of great stuff in here folks.   ****

THE LEGENDARY LYDECKER BROTHERS   by Jay Alan Henderson  2010   186 pages  softcover
I love the trick work of Theodore and Howard Lydecker so this was one long overdue look at the lives and careers of the brothers.   Aside from a rare, hard to find Jack Mathis book on Republic Studios I don't think the boys have had the honour of a publication paying homage until now.  This book has many great behind the scenes stills of the amazing model sets and vehicles (and explosions of course) and some revealing personal stories about the boys, especially in their latter years.  
That said, I was a bit disappointed at the amount of info, with far too much here on the serials and stars as opposed to the Lydecker's contribution.  Many of the photos had poor captions which were banal and obvious, whereas I'd have loved  more technical info on, for example, the means in which they so perfectly scaled miniature explosions, which still look cool.  Still, until something better comes along this will need to suffice I suppose.     ***

THE MAKING OF KUBRICK'S 2001    edited by Jerome Agel   1970  
368 pages   paperback
A real mixed bag this one.  One of the first 'effects' books I ever bought, though one with just a part of the book dedicated to the technical work, while the majority of the 400 or so pages are a strange hodge-podge of letters, pyscho-babble and often irrelevant sidetracking.  That said, the central portion of the book consists of a 96 page fully illustrated mid section (that almost looks as though it were added as an afterthought by the publisher?) dealing entirely with the photographic and miniature effects work.  This is tremendous stuff, and what's more it's penned by Douglas Trumbull for the most part.  All of the key fx shots are explained in concise terms and I recall being entranced by these photos and explanations way back in the early 70's when I first acquired the book.  The best fx commentary on the film I've seen yet... just forget about the other 300 pages of pretentious drivel.   ***

THE MAKING OF KING KONG   by George E.Turner and Orville Goldner    1975   290 pages  softcover
I well remember discovering this gem in a small newsagent near the bus terminal in a seedy part of town in 1976.  As a firm fan of the film I couldn't believe my eyes as this sort of book didn't routinely appear here on bookshelves, let alone a small newsagent!!  Naturally the book was love at first sight and as such is one of my most battered and read to death books of the lot.  You must understand that in the early 70's the film appeared on NZ TV and it was the first chance I had to actually see it.  I did what any fan would have done... I taped the whole thing on my father's old reel to reel audio tape recorder and would play it back ad nauseum while re-living the whole thing in my mind.... and driving my parents insane.  'Ive praised the knowledge and writing style of George Turner a few times already in this blog.  Turner collaborated here with Orville Goldner, one of the surviving effects technicians who was on the Delgado miniatures crew, so naturally the information was first hand.  Although not a lavishly designed nor printed treatise, the book is still utterly essential with tons of great effects info and lots of rare stills, some of which illustrate progressions of the glass painting method used so brilliantly, though it is a shame this wasn't printed on a better grade of paper, as the illo's suffer badly.   *****

THE MAKING OF STAR WARS    by J.W Rinzler  2007  
315 pages   softcover
A great film, certainly the best of the three (I officially only recognise the first three 'original' films and regard the latter 'cash ins' as an infected absess best lanced!  I'll never forgive Lucas for screwing with the original films effects shots in those awful updated re-issues. Now that'll have some readers leaving this blog in droves - but I'm not one to mince words!).  Wow... what a book this is... packed with  lots of old formerly unpublished interviews of most of the principals and alot of rare stills, including a whole section dealing with P.S Ellenshaw's matte shots, complete with before and after shots and some choice admissions from Ellenshaw on the matter.
I've recently seen the follow up book on EMPIRE and it looks just as good, with a healthy chapter on matte art as well.  I can't wait to see the JEDI edition... that'll be a winner I'm sure.  All up, a tremendous volume, well edited and packed with great stuff fans of the film(s) and the ground breaking ILM fx executed by an up and coming group of pro's who in so many of the old snapshots look like they've just wandered in from Woodstock and will try to catch the midnight showing of EASY RIDER.... ;)        *****

MASTER OF THE MAJICKS - VOLUME 3 - THE BRITISH FILMS  by Mike Hankin  2010   640 pages  hardcover
My latest acquisition, and one that I'm still plowing my way through, and loving every word of it!  A truly jaw dropping labour of love for author Mike Hankin, with editor Ernie Farino, who spent decades assembling this epic (and I do mean EPIC) series of interviews, analysis and insider peeks into the world of Harryhausen.  This large, heavy tome is an absolute masterpiece in every respect and I can't speak highly enough of it.  The book, being the third in the epic set, though only the second to actually be published, with the early Harryhausen years which will comprise volume one still to come, has kept this reviewer enthralled from page to page (with still 100 to go).  The book is nothing short of miraculous with a degree of detail I have difficulty getting my head around!  Not only are we treated to everything you ever wanted to know about Ray's British productions (which are the majority of his shows - from '61 through to '80) Hankin deals with all aspects of each production with such loving care and attention it's mind boggling.  I'm so enjoying the comprehensive side articles such as who did the ADR voice work on all of these shows, and to find out that Nicky van der Zyl did most all of the leading ladies voices, plus every 60's Bond femme fatale voice as well was just awesome!  
We are treated to great essays on such facts as the title design work as well, with great pictorial samples of the hand lettered glass titles used in the day.  Wonderful essays accompany each film title on the music, marketing, matte work, audience reaction and more, as well as terrific frames from Ray's own collection, most of which we've never seen before. My one and only complaint is that I've still not seen any stills of the wonderful burning cathedral miniature so brilliantly shot and comped into the climax of GWANGI, and I've never seen a photo of the marvellous Fountain of Destiny miniature set from GOLDEN VOYAGE (publisher Ernie Farino tells me that he too was seeking such pix for the past 35 years and that if in fact any existed, he'd have included them).   Exquisitely printed and bound, with maximum colour and care taken in presenting all of the thousands of images  -it's a sheer joy to behold, believe me. I could write on and on about Master of the Majicks, but I'll finish up with my sheer awe at the number and quality of appendices included at the back... not your usual couple of pages of footnotes but almost 100 pages of appendices alone (!) which cover everything imaginable on Ray's films.  These in themself are tantamount to an entire book alone!   Buy it....NOW!   ***** (I'd give it six stars, but seriously folks, what the hell is ever a 'six star' success story?)

MOVIE MAGIC   by John Brosnan    1974   285 pages  hardcover
One of the first special fx books I ever bought back in the mid seventies, Brosnan's book has always been a fondly regarded work in my collection, and one in which I often dive into and check facts and enjoy Brosnan's keen writing and presentation of the facts. Just take a look at my dog eared battered copy at left and you'll see how 'read' it is!   An extremely well researched book with much to offer, even today amid the many knock off FX books.  The section on British special effects alone is worth the price alone as it is the best there is on the subject, bar none!  Wonderful interviews with Les Bowie, Tom Howard, Wally Veevers, Bill Warrington, Ted Samuels and Cliff Richardson are a joy to behold, especially as these practitioners, like most UK technicians were largely out of sight and out of mind as they never really were ever treated with the respect that Brosnan does here in this fabulous book, and to find an interview with any of these guys isn't easy to come by.  Kudos to Brosnan for his work here.  Shepperton matte artist Gerald Larn, who is pictured painting his sensational ANNE OF THE 1000 DAYS matte told me recently how well he remembered Brosnan spending the day in the matte department "chewing the fat" with head, Ted Samuels.  My only complaints here are some small errors such as claiming Pop Day was French (a common misnomer) and the disappointingly lousy quality still reproductions which look mostly awful!    Tremendous book.   *****

MOVIE MAGIC  (updated edition)  by John Brosnan   1976   
208 pages  paperback
I'll mention this edition too as it's basically the same book, though in small format paperback and it has an additional chapter on the current vogue of the day, The Disaster Films, which is pretty good. and as with the entire text, an excellent reference tool, far better than most.  A number of illustrations from the first edition have gone west, and several newer up to date photos appear, and unlike the earlier version this is a far better printed version with far higher quality stills on better paper, though as I say, alot of the book one stills are not included sadly.  Worth owning both copies in my opinion, so I do!  I purposely photographed this cover in front of one of my recently acquired MGM matte paintings just to satisfy anyone out there who feels compelled to press legal proceedings for the apparent lack of matte shots in this blog!    Ya can't get me that easily!  *****

MOVIE SPECIAL EFFECTS  by Jeff Rovin   1977  170 pages  hardcover
Author Rovin knows his stuff and produced that delightful From The Land Beyond Beyond book I reviewed earlier.  This fx book was a good entry in the late 70's and kept me pretty enthralled for years.  Lots of info and good illustrations in this one, with very good still reproductions to add sugar to the already good text.  It proved great for me back then as I was addicted to disaster flicks and this has alot of useful data on those, especially THE HINDENBERG which had just come out.  As a rundown on the history and major breakthroughs in effects work it's pretty good and has a few rare finds not seen or written about elsewhere such as Willis O'Brien apparently worked on CITIZEN KANE.     ***

RAY HARRYHAUSEN - AN ANIMATED LIFE    by Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton  2003   305 pages  hardcover
As you'd have already guessed, I dig Ray and his work, so this fantastic edition fills the many gaps that left me wanting for so many years from Ray's own Fantasy Film Scrapbook which purposely shrouded his work in a veil not unlike the Berlin Wall, which was the way Ray liked it.  That said, this welcomed bio is all it should be as part of a showcase of the amazing single handed trickery Ray has pulled out of the hat and thrilled us with for decades.While not quite up there with the epic Master of the Majicks, this book is excellent and thoroughly deserved of my five star rating.  Loaded to the hilt with great stuff, frames, out takes, storyboards and an excellent text to accompany the hundreds of stunning images. I'd love to shake Ray's hand.  My fellow countryman Peter Jackson brought Ray out here to NZ twice a few years ago to visit, but kept him all to himself.     *****

THE SAGA OF SPECIAL EFFECTS    by Ron Fry and Pamela Fourzon   1977   215 pages  hardcover
This is one of those 'trick photography in movies revealed' type books which crop up from time to time and it's no better, though certainly no worse than most with enough to be interesting, though truthfully, you've read it all before.  Pictorially it's not up to scratch with dull publicity photos and the only exceptions being some nice pictures of Jim Danforth animating the fire ladder sequence for IT'S A MAD, MAD WORLD and some good before and after Paul Detlefsen mattes from ANDROCLES AND THE LION make this a pleasant, though not especially memorable entry which manages to cover the basics.   **

SPECIAL EFFECTS ARTISTS  by Rolf Giesen   2008   256 pages  hardcover
This is decidedly a mixed bag.  While on the one hand fellows like me are able to extract a fair bit of useful bio data on old time effects men and matte painters the book is a bit of a jumbled affair with often vague, pointless entries which tell us absolutely nothing.  Basically a dictionary cum reference tool I can't really imagine it being of much interest to many people except those delving into a college thesis on old time fx guys or blogger types like me.  Dry to put it lightly, Giesen's text left alot to be desired and tends to ramble in academia with so little substance.  Quite alot of the info came from imdb by the looks of it and I know for a fact that several pieces came, verbatim, straight out of my pal Domingo Lizcano's amazing website Art in Movies.  Lots of credit listings and some genuinely useful backgrounds on people such as the Lydeckers, Whitlock and Ralph Hammeras make up for the shortcomings.  The selection of illustrations left alot to be desired, though there are some absolute gems such as terrific on set miniature photos from THE LOST WORLD and several great Syd Dutton and Al Whitlock glass paintings, though, as with the norm, publishing house MacFarlane prints these things on crap quality paper which offers poor photo resolution, which is a cheek as you'll need to rob a bank to buy their (often really good) books.    Giesen is however one of the directors of the amazing Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin, responsible for all the special effects related archive and displays which I had the pleasure of visiting in 2008 to see all the Harryhausen models.  **

SPECIAL EFFECTS IN THE MOVIES    by John Culhane   1981   
184 pages   softcover
This is one of those general purpose 'how did they do that' FX books which occasionally pop up on the bookshelves from time to time.  While no great shakes, it's not too bad and covers all the usual suspects and films with some especially good material on my fave make up artist Dick Smith, the miniatures in 1941 and some good material on disaster movies.  There are a number of good profiles on key effects guys such as Whitlock, Ellenshaw, Trumbull, Abbott, Dunn and others as well as generally good quality stills here.  ***

SPECIAL EFFECTS - AN ORAL HISTORY   by Pascal Pinteau  2003   580 pages  softcover
A French overview of the world special effects industry, translated here into English, and an impressive one at that.  Essentially built around a series of some 38 interviews with effects people such as Stan Winstone, German fx man Volker Engel, Brit miniaturist Martin Bower, Aardman's Nick Park and WETA's Richard Taylor, to name a few, mostly 'new breed' of vfx artisans covered here.  Pinteau's lavishly illustrated and nicely set out tome is fresh and informative. All aspects of effects work are covered with the new twist being a wonderful chapter covering all of the amazing theme parks such as Disneyland and the Universal Tour.  I've always had a fascination with the Disney rides such as the still delightful Haunted Mansion and the mind blowing Indiana Jones Adventure ride (which I queued up twice in a row in searing heat and record crowds to experience it all over again years ago) so this book covers some very new ground indeed.  many of the FX artists may be unknown to those of us outside of Europe, though the interview with French matte artist Jean-Marie Vives was great.  All up a highly recommended read and one to add to the already sagging bookshelf.   ****

SPECIAL EFFECTS  -CREATING MOVIE MAGIC    by Christopher Finch  1984  250 pages hardcover
Wow, what a nice book this one is!  Definitely one of the more impressive and expensive coffee table books on the artform to come out, particularly back in '84 when such things were never this lavish.  Stunningly printed and bound with the finest heavy grade paper available which makes the many great illustrations jump right off the page.  
It seems that no expense was spared in getting this one into the marketplace, and it shows.  It's pretty much a 'how it was done' deal, though a very good one, with excellent diagrams to illustrate various trick processes and as I've mentioned, beautiful colour plates such as the example shown here.  Lots in here, though it makes no real attempt to cover it all as some do, choosing instead to selectively showcase the miracles of the trick shot man.  It's a great overview, even though people like Whitlock and Ellenshaw snr never get a mention, there are some great matte painting examples from Matthew Yuricich and Rocco Gioffre as well as some terrific BLADERUNNER material.  
A chapter on the new fangled computer generated work may raise a few chuckles as it's all progressed so far since then it looks a bit on the  primitive side as used in TRON but it's all worthwhile given the time the book was published.  A glorious looking (and smelling!) book.     ****

SPECIAL EFFECTS - WIRE, TAPE AND RUBBER BAND STYLE   by L.B Abbott    1984     250 pages  hardcover
I've often written about Lenwood Ballard Abbott in my blogs, definitely one of the greats in effects cinematography.  So it goes without saying that the decision by the ASC Press to publish his memoir was a wise one, and one that I'm sure was eagerly welcomed by a great many effects fans out there.  This is a glorious book with, among it's breakdowns of the various Abbott fx shots over the decades, a wonderful self penned bio of  Bill's early life and start in movies.  Wonderful stuff indeed, with fascinating stories and revealing anecdotes a plenty.  A tremendous book in all respects, even though I'm pretty sure Bill himself made a few errors such as stating that the LOGAN'S RUN transport car shots were rear process when I recall being astounded by how shoddy the apparent blue screen shots were in those scenes.  Sadly some of the frame enlargements are from old 35mm clips which have deteriorated to a a colourless pink in some cases and are scratched to hell in other cases - not to mention a few that are flopped back to front entirely - but those quibbles aside, it's a rare as hell type of memoir written by an effects champion, the kind of which very hardly ever crops up, sadly.  Definitely worth tracking down.      *****

SPECIAL EFFECTS - STARLOG PHOTO GUIDEBOOK SERIES    by David Hutchinson  1979-84   98 pages  softcover
I only have three of these but I recall the excitement back in '79 of finding one of these in a comic store.  Hutchinson has written the special effects series for Starlog magazine for years and these are largely the offshoot of those articles, mostly rewritten and reformatted (sometimes badly) for book publication.  There's a lot of stuff in here from FLESH GORDON and THUNDERBIRDS miniature work through to the matte art used in THE BLACK HOLE and STAR TREK II, with the latter being especially well reproduced.  Matthew Yuricich is well represented with an article, as is Tom Savini and the great A.D Flowers.  Despite some erratic layout work, quite bizarre general organisation of the material and murky photo reproduction in volume 2 which sometimes can't decide where the hell it's headed, the series make for decent collecting and reading for fans of the old handmade stuff.     ***

Although there isn't any author listed nor mentioned, this is from the hands of the Shubrook brothers - the sons of Alan Shubrook, former miniaturist for Meddings at Gerry Anderson's Century 21 Productions.  Derek was and still is one of my heroes, having grown up on STINGRAY, THUNDERBIRDS and CAPTAIN SCARLETT among others.  The long wait each week for the next installment in one of these wonderful marionette shows was an endurance test in itself!  These shows were as spectacular as tv ever got back in the mid sixties, where all else, such as THE AVENGERS and THE PRISONER seemed drab in comparison (not helped by NZ not having colour tv until 1972).  I loved the earlier Shubrook book Century 21 Effects, mentioned above, and was hoping this one would equal or surpass the former.  Sadly that was not to be.  This retrospective on Derek's career is seriously left wanting I'm afraid, and it really doesn't come near to what it could be.  Sure there are plenty of great pictures which Derek's four children have dug out of the attic for the book, but the text and general development is quite poor, regrettably.  The text, for what it is, consists mainly of a series of brief sidebars and short pieces, none of which are either illuminating nor new, with the prose restricted to the most basic of descriptive captions which come across as so banal it's just not funny. The authors also make a repeated error in describing patently painted backings as matte paintings in several photographs.   This is so unfortunate as I'd really had high expectations for this book and it's not even halfway successful.  **

SPFX - SPECIAL EFFECTS MAGAZINE   edited by Ted Bohus   1996   magazine series
This was an initially very cool little magazine, started way back in the late 70's with a couple of issues, then a marathon hiatus until it was ressurected in '96.  The mag is a bit of a mixed bag, and while the third issue (or the first of the reincarnated mag) was tremendous, with a wonderful Danforth interview, Harryhausen piece and a sensational retro on THE TIME MACHINE, the other issues I've got never came anywhere near this in terms of journalism or for that matter 'special effects', despite the name.  The latter issues seemed more concerned with interviewing aged celebrities and so called scream queen nobodies like Michelle Bauer for Christs sake, with little, if any actual SFX content to speak of.  Quite a let down after that wonderful and triumphant 'return' issue no.3.     **

SPECIAL EFFECTS IN MOTION PICTURES   by Frank P.Clark   1963    238 pages  hardcover
Very much an effects technician's handbook, this vintage 1963 work is very detailed in explaining all manner of physical effects gags as would be required for film and tv as on set tricks.  Lots of info on squibs, breakaways, models and atmospheric fx, and a brief chapter on opticals and glass shots, though as Clark says, it's outside of the scope of this book so he tends to stay away from the topic.  Has some nice behind the scenes pictures of the Larry Butler miniature volcano set for THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK (1961)  **

SPECIAL EFFECTS - THE HISTORY AND TECHNIQUE   by Richard Rickitt   2000  320 pages  hardcover
A mammoth tome, this, the first edition of the Rickitt book is a reasonably useful, though in no way new nor revolutionary, look at the big picture.   Some good breakdowns of the old Dunnings and Williams self matting techniques as well as good descriptive pieces on matte painting and that other thing called 'digital matte painting' (!) coupled together with lots of nice sidebar profiles on experts such as Whitlock, Fulton, Jennings, Gillespie and the Lydeckers.  Extensive chapters on make up fx, sound effects and physical effects too, though my old bug bear, the incorrectly flopped photographs are apparent in several instances, and, as usual, the large painted EARTHQUAKE backing is again credited incorrectly to Albert Whitlock.  A later, somewhat thicker edition of this book came out, and while it retains much of this content a great deal has been expanded upon to include the new CG work and all the bells and whistles associated therein.    ***

SUPER 8 FILMAKER     magazine series - 1970's
I'll just briefly mention this one as I had a few of these back in the day and still own this copy above which has an outstanding interview with the master, Albert Whitlock done during the making of MACARTHUR in 1977 and it's one of my favourite Whitlock interviews.  Intelligent questions and thoughtful answers.   As a budding pseudo 8mm film maker of sorts this interview (and the mag itself) were gold to me and my like minded pals, despite our total lack of ability!

STARLOG MAGAZINE   magazine series - from around 1976 to ??
The scarcity of effects coverage way the hell down here in New Zealand was alarming back in the day, so each and every issue of mags like STARLOG, FANTASTIC FILMS and sometimes STARBURST were snapped up by yours truly, and the contents savoured for days on end.  STARLOG regularly featured a special effects article by David Hutchinson and I just couldn't get enough of these.  Among the memorable articles were the respective Rick Baker, John Chambers and Dick Smith special articles which were breathtaking for this enthusiast, as all of those guys were Gods, especially Smith!!  Then there were the Brick Price Movie Miniatures, Jim Danforth profile and the wacky Bob Burns Halloween Special which enthralled me too.... but the icing on the cake were by a long shot the three issues featuring the magic of the matte artist.  Matthew Yuricich featured first in 1977, hot on the heels of his Oscar win for LOGAN'S RUN, followed next issue by P.S Ellenshaw, before he changed his name to Harrison, and many issues later in 1982 a wonderful Albert Whitlock special  -all of which I still proudly re-read often.  Great stuff for an arena barely mentioned in fanzines and sci fi mags of the day.     ****

THE TECHNIQUE OF SPECIAL EFFECTS CINEMATOGRAPHY   by Raymond Fielding  1974 edition   425 pages  hardcover
The grand daddy of all instructive manuals on special photographic effects, this monumental and utterly brilliant treatise by Professor Fielding was one of a kind in it's time, with some eight re-printings over the decades from the initial 1965 release kind of says it all.  I recall shelling out the astronomical amount of NZ$9.90 for this back in 1976 - alot for a book back then, when movies cost $1.25 and a bottle of milk was 4 cents !!!  Certainly one of if not the best visual effects books of the lot.  The book covers everything from optical printing, process, in camera fx, glass shots, Shufftan shots, matte painting, miniature construction and hanging foreground models - and all in a very non threatening, non condescending way that's utterly approachable and readable, thanks to Raymond's extensive knowledge on the practical applications of each of these techniques, as Professor of Communications at Philadelphia.   Lavishly illustrated with terrific examples of all of the above methods, and a number of old Norman Dawn matte shots, due no doubt to Fielding's long association with Dawn in his latter years.  I love this book and it's another that I often pull out for a look-see.   *****

THE TECHNIQUE OF SPECIAL EFFECTS IN TELEVISION   by Bernard Wilkie  1971  390 pages  hardcover
Another from the Focal Press series, which included the above as well as many more on editing, sound recording and more, this is really a solid how to manual for the practical effects or mechanical effects technician working in the TV world.  Plenty of great tutorials on breakaway props,  pyrotechnics, in camera visual fx shots, assorted trick shots and some miniature work.  Wilkie was visual effects supervisor at the BBC on DOCTOR WHO and other shows.   ****

Although probably of very little interest to the mainstream reader I love this little though vastly overpriced as per usual MacFarlane book for it's wonderful reference value and credit lists that are hard to beat anywhere else.  Author Hayes has detailed all films and personell nominated or winning the coveted Oscar in the 'broad' special effects categories, with a brief run down on the fx that the Academy viewed from each film each year, as well as info on the various non-statuette awards for technical achievement and research and development.  Interestingly Hayes was privy to viewing these same show reels held at the Academy I believe, something I'd dearly love to get my hands upon.  It was common practice for a film accepted as a nominee, and few were, with none of Ray Harryhausen's pictures ever getting past the submission stage for example, with the company providing a brief 35mm reel of selected fx clips and a manuscript explaining the processes utilised therein.  The whole thing was an incestuous, mogul manipulated operation in my mind, especially in the first 30 years or so with often bizarre choices of nominee and winner........ but don't get me started on bloody Oscar injustices again in the same blog!   ****

Well, aside from numerous paperbacks such as The Making of DeLaurentiis' King Kong, The Making of Superman, Alien, Empire Strikes Back, Jaws, Earthquake, CE3K and many similar as well as old Popular Mechanics mags and suchlike, which often had some surprising effects coverage going as far back as the 1920's, much of which I've used elsewhere in my earlier blogs.

A last minute add on:

DVD DELIRIUM   by Nathaniel Thompson    2003-2010   400-730 pages softcover
Now I just decided to add these as an afterthought, although they have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with visual effects of any sort.  These 4 volumes comprise the best source around for the discerning DVD collector in as much as excellent coverage and detailed reviews of the surprising, the foreign, the wierd, the wacky and just plain amazing discs available out there that the likes of Leonard Maltin wouldn't typically even see, let alone review.  Tremendous writing by film buff extraordinaire Thompson, with thousands of DVD's very comprehensively reviewed complete with amazing comparisons between various releases from different international regions and labels. This is no mere 'capsule review' affair folks, but an incredibly knowlegable and utterly fascinating read for those who are serious about film.
For the non  mainstream, there is nothing better on the market,  and these books have cost me plenty in purchases of obscure and utterly amazing Japanese 70's cinema alone, not to mention all manner of often forgotten gems from all corners of the earth. The 4 books thus far are packed to the hilt with fantastic reviews, with the first three running up to 700 pages a piece and the last edition a slimmer 400 pages - they are never far from my reach.  Review tomes don't get much better than these folks.  My highest recommendation for the adventurous film fiends among you.  *****