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17,000 nights at the movies with Leonard Maltin

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17,000 nights at the movies with Leonard Maltin

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You'd think that -- when the very first edition of "Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide" was published back in 1969 -- that this then-18-year-old film historian would have been terribly proud of his first published work. Well, think again.

"To be honest, I was embarassed by the book," Maltin admitted in a recent interview. "All I could see was its flaws. The films I accidentally left out, the entries that I got wrong. I really hoped that someday I'd get a chance to fix my mistakes."

Well, as it turns out, that opportunity did eventually come along. Which is why -- when his publishers at Penguin gave Leonard a call in 1973 and said "Let's do a revised and expanded version of your book" (Which -- FYI -- was originally called "TV Movies") -- Maltin jumped at the chance. He quickly corrected all of his earlier errors as well as added hundreds of new movie reviews to this paperback.

And from there, things began to snowball. The enhanced & updated version of "TV Movies" sold so well in 1974 that -- four years later -- Penguin ordered up a third edition. And that version moved so many copies that -- two years later -- Leonard's publishers asked him to write a fourth edition of the book.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Of course, what didn't hurt this situation was that -- back in the early 1980s -- the video revolution was just getting underway. And as thousands of new & old films began coming out on VHS & Beta ... Consumers needed some sort of guide book to help them dig through that huge flood of cassettes. So that they could then determine what was worth watching.

Now add to this that -- in the intervening decade -- Maltin had firmly established his reputation as a film historian. Thanks to such well received books as "The Disney Films," "Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons" and "Movie Comedy Teams," movie enthusiasts now viewed Leonard as something of an authority. Particularly when it came to determining which older releases were really worth going out of your way to see.

Which is why -- by 1984 -- the now-titled "Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide" had become something of a bible for film buffs. And even though an updated version of this ever-expanding paperback was now being published every two years, that wasn't good enough for video store owners as well as the hardcore collectors. These folks began hectoring Leonard's publishers until NAL finally agreed to put a brand-new edition of the book every year.

Which brings us to today. With the 20th annual edition of the now-titled "Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide" coming out next week (With the easier-to-read 1600-page Plume version of the 2008 Guide going on sale August 3rd, while the 1648-page Signet edition of this popular paperback hitting store shelves on August 7th), Leonard took a moment to talk about all of the hard work that goes on behind-the-scenes to keep this three-time New York Times bestseller updated.

 Copyright 2008 Plume / Signet. All Rights Reserved

"Obviously, with over 17,000 entries in the Guide now, I can't do this all by myself," Maltin admitted. "I've got a great team of people that I work with, who help me revise and update every edition of the book. Which then leaves me free to write about the films that I feel strongest about. That's one of the perks of being the boss on a project like this."

Mind you, in spite of his many outside obligations (i.e. Leonard's regular appearances on "Entertainment Tonight" as well as the courses that he teaches at USC's School of Cinema-Television), Maltin remains very hands-on when it comes to the "Movie Guide." He personally reviews and edits each edition of the book. With a particular eye toward updating entries to reflect how his opinions of particular pictures may have changed over the years.

"Take -- for example -- 'Alien.' When that Ridley Scott film originally came out in 1979, I just didn't care for it. I felt very uncomfortable watching that movie the first time around," he continued. "But I recently had the chance to rewatch 'Alien.' And I have to admit that I found it to be a much more entertaining film than I remembered. Which is why I felt it necessary to revise the description of that movie that I had originally posted in the Guide."

It's this obvious dedication to keeping his "Movie Guide" fresh & informative (Not to mention updated. The 2008 version features reviews of over 400 new films) that has kept movie enthusiasts picking up the latest edition of Leonard's book for two decades now. And Maltin genuinely appreciates his readers' loyalty.

"It is a lot of work," he concluded. "And I try to make sure that the Guide is never too glib or too flippant when it comes to the reviews that we post. Which is why we have a checks & balances system in place to that -- year in, year out -- the book has a consistent tone and quality."

 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of quality ... As part of our interview, Leonard had to take a moment to talk up the next three titles in the Disney Treasures DVD series.

"First up is 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,' " Maltin continued. "This two-disc set will feature several newly restored versions of these black & white silent cartoons. Some of which will now have an full orchestral track while others will feature just organ accompaniment. This DVD will also include Leslie Iwerk's great documentary, 'The Hand Behind the Mouse,' about her grandfather Ub Iwerks."

Also included in this "Disney Treasures" release is the oft-delayed "Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic" as well as "The Chronological Donald -- Volume 3." Which will include intriguing extras like a featurette that documents Donald's many cameo appearances in feature films as well as an interview with noted Disney character sculptor Rubén Procopio. Who will demonstrate how you take a two-dimensional character like Donald Duck and change him into a 3D sculpture.

Hmmn ... I wonder. Will Leonard be including descriptions of these new "Disney Treasures" sets as part of the 2009 edition of his "Movie Guide" ? I mean, this paperback already includes listings for 8,000 DVDs & 13,000 videos. Surely Maltin's got room for three short reviews of these new 2-disc sets.

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  • dang.  i was hoping for a little more on what would be in the Disneyland dvd set.  yes i know there's one main new documentary, but that's only one dvd.  there's room for 4 Disneyland/WWoC TV show episodes on there after that and I'd just like to know if, as with "Your Host Walt Disney", are we (addicts) going to be forced into buying yet another duplicate copy of a show we already have?

  • Considering we've been waiting about 2 years plus for the Disneyland DVD, I'm just glad to see it's finally coming out! I would love to see more of the Disneyland and WDW TV shows as part of the future Treasures releases, though...

  • Maltin's Disney Movies book is a great read for any Disney fan!  He needs to do an update on it to include all the great movies that have come out since it was published.

  • Interesting article Jim. I have never been too interested in Maltin but your interview has shown me a glimpse into the man. I may not agree with all of his reviews but he does have a love for movies and it shows in your article. Here's hoping that the new Wave of Disney Treasures is better than the last.

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