The pantheon of big-budget, commercially successful films encompasses a range of genres, including biblical films, war films, romances, comic-book adaptations, animated features, and historical epics. In Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History authors Sheldon Hall and Steve Neale discuss the characteristics, history, and modes of distribution and exhibition that unite big-budget pictures, from their beginnings in the late nineteenth century to the present. Moving chronologically, the authors examine the roots of today's blockbuster in the "feature," "special," "superspecial," "roadshow," "epic," and "spectacle" of earlier eras, with special attention to the characteristics of each type of picture.
In the first section, Hall and Neale consider the beginnings of features, specials, and superspecials in American cinema, as the terms came to define not the length of a film but its marketable stars or larger budget. The second section investigates roadshowing as a means of distributing specials and the changes to the roadshow that resulted from the introduction of synchronized sound in the 1920s.
In the third section, the authors examine the phenomenon of epics and spectacles that arose from films like Gone with the Wind, Samson and Deliliah, and Spartacus and continues to evolve today in films like Spider-Man and Pearl Harbor. Hall and Neale consider advances in visual and sound technology and the effects and costs they introduced to the industry.
Scholars of film and television studies as well as readers interested in the history of American moviemaking will enjoy Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters.
I took a course in film history back in college, and while I won't go into detail, suffice it to say it was a joke. This is the book that outlines what I wish they had taught. I want to go back in time with a physical copy of it and beat my professors over the head with it.
What's inside here is an almost complete look at the evolution of the Hollywood blockbuster machine, just as the title of the book implies. Fair warning to the uninitiated: if you're not already familiar with the lingo, you'll get no real definitions here. For all things there is Google. This book will expect you to know the difference between roadshows, grindhouse, reserve ticket, and things of that nature. Easy enough to wrap your head around. It will also outline the differences in process as the evolution goes, so you'll learn about Cinemascope, Vistascope, Panavision, Dolby, and other such things, and how it all fits together. The spotlight is on the process, the commercial trends, and the development of how things became what they are today. It's not exactly in chronological order, but it is told generally that way with an eye towards sweeping trends first, so there is some overlap here and there in the timeline.
The narrator gives a solid delivery, though I had to grin whenever he does a direct quote from any source. All quoted passages are delivered in what I call "golfer announcer voice." He drops his tone to a kind of a whisper and removes all expression from it. On the plus column, he's more upbeat when the text doesn't directly quote.
All in all, this one's for the film buffs and armchair historians who like to peek behind the scenes. It could be better, it could be more in-depth on certain stories, but it will definitely offer a breadth of material with deliberate focus and will point you towards more research if you so desire.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
This book, although well narrated, was mostly facts and figures... Very dry to listen to