Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History by Sheldon Hall and Steve Neale

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.

4 stars


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