Book Review: Joe Alves – Designing ‘Jaws’

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Publisher: Titan Books

Release Date: December 03, 2019

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is one of the most enduring movies ever made. It has thrilled generations of audiences worldwide, and it is no wonder why there have been several books devoted to telling the story of the film’s production. On the surface, it may seem that another book on the subject is superfluous, but Dennis Prince’s beautiful new coffee table book zeros in on the enormous contributions of Joe Alves (the film’s production designer). Included are Joes’ stunning pre-production illustrations; handwritten location and production notes; on-set photographs; blueprints of the shark’s design and first-time publication of his complete catalogue of storyboards used to chart the heart-stopping action. Designing Jaws proves that there is still quite a bit more to learn about the film’s creation, and it adds to one’s appreciation of the film. Scholars will reference the book and fans will treasure it.

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Book Review: Storytelling for Film and Television

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Publisher: Routledge

Release Date: May 01, 2019

Storytelling for Film and Television has been described as “a theory and practice book which offers a definitive introduction to the art of storytelling through writing, directing, and editing.” This is a fair enough description of Ken Dancyger’s text, although it is debatable as to whether it really “provides a comprehensive explanation of the tools that underpin successful narrative filmmaking and television production.” In fact, it seems very unlikely that a truly “comprehensive” examination of this particular subject will ever exist.

Dancyger attempts to explain how the three aforementioned phases of film and television production contribute to the storytelling process. He does this by using several very specific examples from films such as The Verdict, The Revenant, and Son of Saul and television series such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. This approach is both the book’s greatest strength and its major weakness since one’s enjoyment and understanding will depend on whether they have seen the movies that are being used as case studies and that they enjoy (or at least appreciate) them.

Book Review: Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film (40th Anniversary Edition)

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Publisher: Quarto Press

Release Date: November 19, 2019

For 40 years, audiences have been simultaneously captivated and appalled as the spaceship Nostromo is invaded and its crew stalked by a terrifying parasitic creature. From the gore of the infant alien bursting from Kane’s chest to the mounting claustrophobia as Ripley discovers the monster has followed her into the escape shuttle, Alien is a chilling masterpiece. It is a film that deserves an excellent “Making of” text, but are two texts really necessary?

Quarto Press is giving Ian Nathan’s Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film a 40th Anniversary edition that falls on the heels of J. W. Rinzler’s The Making of Alien—a larger and longer coffee table epic that this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed. However, there is something to be said for Ian Nathan’s original book, which manages to be just as gorgeous and engaging as Rinzler’s later work.

There is plenty of informational overlap, and both books contain some of the same production photographs. However, there are enough differences to recommend both texts to die-hard Alien fanatics. Both books trace the path of the film’s production “from embryonic concept to fully fledged box office phenomenon,” but there are differences in their delivery and a few nuggets of information that don’t cross over. What’s more, both books include a wealth of production photography, sketches, storyboards, and all sorts of pertinent visual documentation.

In fact, Nathan’s book adds icing to the cake by adding two compartments containing “ten meticulously reproduced artifacts—such as replications of storyboards, a detailed schematic of the Nostromo, early designs of O’Bannon’s face-hugger concept, and a promotional poster from Japan.” It’s a nice tactile bonus for fans to enjoy. What’s more, this 40th Anniversary edition has an added chapter that discusses “Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien saga with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.” Better yet, lends this text added legitimacy by providing the book’s forward.

In other words, each book is nice enough to warrant a special place on the cinephile’s bookshelf. Casual fans who prefer to only add one book to their collection may find the Rinzler text a bit more substantial, but don’t proceed under the illusion that you aren’t missing anything by not examining Nathan’s beautiful book.

Book Review: Quentin Tarantino — The Iconic Filmmaker and His Work

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Publisher: Quarto Press

Release Date: October 01, 2019

Those who have read Ian Nathan’s wonderful book about the Coen Brothers (The Coen Brothers: The Iconic Filmmaker’s and Their Work) will know what to expect on this even better book about Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. One could call it a career biography as it is a nice fusion of scholarly analysis and “behind the scenes” information. Tarantino fans will want to have this on their shelves as it makes for terrific bedtime reading, and film scholars will be happy to have it as a resource (especially since there aren’t that many books about Quentin’s work). The book covers each of the director’s nine primary films—including Once Upon A Time In Hollywood—as well as those he wrote but didn’t direct (True Romance, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Natural Born Killers). Honestly, I am going to keep an eye out for any future books written by Ian Nathan.

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Book Review: Reading and Writing a Screenplay – Fiction, Documentary, and New Media

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Publisher: Routledge

Release Date: April 12, 2019

“If a screenplay tells a story, it must also let viewers picture and hear the film in its gestation. Screenplays are written versions of future movies, and the wording should allow viewers to have a sense of what that film could be, as they are reading it. The way a script is read is critical to its realization. How should it be read? By whom? And with what criteria in mind?” –Isabelle Raynauld (Introduction, Reading and Writing a Screenplay, 2019)

Routledge gives a fair description of the book:

“[Reading and Writing a Screenplay] explores the screenplay and the screenwriting process by approaching the film script in three different ways: how it is written, how it is read and how it can be rewritten. Combining contemporary screenwriting practices with historical and academic context, Isabelle Raynauld provides key analytical tools and reading strategies for conceptualizing and scripting projects based on the impact different writing styles can have on readers, with various examples ranging from early cinema to new media and new platforms throughout.” –Routledge

Raynauld often places more emphasis on the reading of screenplays than the act of writing them. It’s an interesting enough dissection of the form, but it may not offer novice writers much in the way of guidance or inspiration. Frankly, it doesn’t add as much to the conversation as one might have hoped.

Book Review: Steven Spielberg Interviews

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Publisher: University Press of Mississippi

Release Date: August 15, 2019

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Steven Spielberg began as an auteur wunderkind filmmaker, but developed into a successful Hollywood mogul. The interviews in this revised edition of Steven Spielberg Interviews—one in a series of texts from the ‘University Press of Mississippi’ entitled the Conversations with Filmmakers Series—covers much of his career as a filmmaker up to this point. The final interview in this collection was given during the publicity for Ready Player One while one of the earliest was given during a press tour for Sugarland Express.

The original edition (which was published in 2000) included 18 interviews that covered the span of his career up to that particular point in time. This revised edition includes 11 of those 18 interviews, omits 7 of them, and adds 9 new interviews so that the entirety of his career is covered. One wonders why they didn’t simply publish a second volume that covers the span of time between 2000 and 2019, but those who haven’t already invested in that earlier edition will certainly be happy that they didn’t (since they will not have to buy both volumes). We can’t completely agree with all of the editorial choices that were made while curating this new edition. An example would be their decision to omit an interview that covers The Color Purple while keeping the interview for Always. Whatever criticisms one might have about The Color Purple, the film was inarguably a milestone in Spielberg’s career. It was certainly more important and more successful than Always! However, few will lament the interview entitled “1941: Bombs Away” (even if an interview about Spielberg’s first failure has value).

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This is the cover used for the original edition that was published in 2000.

This list of the interviews contained in both editions may help those considering an upgrade. All interviews that are not in bold are unique to that particular edition.

List of Interviews – Original 2000 Edition:

At Sea with Steven Spielberg

Filming Sugarland Express: An Interview with Steven Spielberg

Primal Scream: An Interview with Steven Spielberg

Close Encounters with Steven Spielberg

The Mind Behind Close Encounters of the Third Kind

1941: Bombs Away

Steven Spielberg and His Adventures on Earth

A Conversation with Steven Spielberg

Spielberg Films The Color Purple

Spielberg at 40: The Man and the Child

Always: An Interview with Steven Spielberg

Hook

Steven’s Choice

Seriously Spielberg

A “World” Apart

Five Star General

Crossroads: Steven Spielberg

Steven the Good

List of Interviews – Revised 2019 Edition:

At Sea with Steven Spielberg

Filming Sugarland Express: An Interview with Steven Spielberg

Primal Scream: An Interview with Steven Spielberg

Close Encounters with Steven Spielberg

The Mind Behind Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg and His Adventures on Earth

Always: An Interview with Steven Spielberg

Steven’s Choice

Seriously Spielberg

A “World” Apart

Five Star General

An Interview with Steven Spielberg

Spiegel Interview with Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg

A Telephone Call with Spielberg

Spiegel Interview with Steven Spielberg

Q&A: Steven Spielberg

Interview: Steven Spielberg Tempts the Fates with His Animated Tintin

Steven Spielberg Interview for Lincoln

Steven Spielberg on the Cold War and Other Hollywood Front Lines

Ready Player One’s Steven Spielberg and Ernest Cline on Pooling Their Nostalgia to Tell a New Story

One may question their decision to omit interviews from their original volume since the new edition is only 206 pages (if one doesn’t count the preface or the index). 7 extra interviews wouldn’t have made the book too long. In the end, this new edition is a valuable upgrade and is recommended for Spielberg fans. Those who do not already own the earlier text should opt for this version, and those who already have that text on their shelves may wish to upgrade. Just remember to hold on to that earlier edition for the interviews that haven’t been carried over.

Book Review: The Making of ‘Alien’

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Publisher: Titan Books

Release Date: July 23. 2019

Titan Books is marketing the book as “the definitive work on this masterpiece of popular cinema,” but it is difficult not to become skeptical about these so-called “making of” coffee table books. They are too often anemic in terms of actual information, and the often gorgeous production photography tends to feel like padding. This isn’t at all the case here as J.W. Rinzler’s text is surprisingly comprehensive. It covers each stage of the filmmaking process in rich detail, and the sometimes rare production photography is icing on a very enjoyable cake. It’s an essential book for fans of the film (although they are certain to already know at least some of the information presented here).

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