Bring back the DVD Movie Guide


The DVD Movie Guide is/was a fat book full of short film reviews, with ratings which range from Turkey (really really bad) to five stars. The formal purpose of the book was to help in the decision which movies to rent or buy, but it also served as an indispensable pool of film knowledge, especially thanks to its director/cast indexes, where you could look up who did what and with whom. This was especially helpful in the pre-Internet age, and here lies the rub.

After 22 years the DMG’s publisher, Random House, decided to discontinue the book, citing the internet as the main reason for that. The logic behind it was that since we can find all film information on the net, nobody needs this book anymore. Right?

Wrong.

The DMG was a special book. I’ve been buying and reading it since 1993, when it was still called Video Movie guide. What made the DMG great wasn’t the indexes – those did lose their relevance in the age of IMDB, although it’s still fun to check them out just sitting on a couch with the book at hand, and I still do it from time to time with my old copies – No, the reason was pretty simple: The reviews.

The DVD Movie Guide was always a no-nonsense, down to earth, film review book, with honest, insightful and sometimes damn funny – reviews. While other film reference tomes of its kind, most famous being the Leonard Maltin guide, mainly review films from a critical, even snobbish point of view, what made the DMG special was it being a movie review book by moviegoers for moviegoers. By saying that I don’t mean that the reviews were written lazily or information was partial and wrong, I’m saying the entire approach in reviewing films was that all films no matter their genre, no matter who made them, no matter their subject matter, all deserved a fair chance. What made this book close to my heart was the almost perfect synch it had with my taste. I rarely go wrong by watching a film recommended by this book. that’s not to say that it was always prefect (you can’t honestly except a 100 percent anywhere in life). Few films which received five starts weren’t that perfect in my eyes, and  some films which got two starts deserved better, I thought (that’s where the “guilty pleasure” discussion comes in. On the other hand, a turkey is almost always a turkey). But for the most part I almost always agreed with their reviews.

There are so many movies out there, so when you find a reliable film guide you should hold on to it and treasure it. It becomes your best friend. It helps you separate the good from the bad and it helps you save time. And one more thing, perhaps the most important: What the DMG or any self-respecting film guide does best is not to tell you Casablanca is good and Ishtar is bad. You knew that already. What it needs to do is help you DISCOVER those films you never heard of or thought they were lousy just because of  prejudice or because you didn’t like the poster or the trailer. Not too long ago I persuaded friends to watch the wonderful Hot Fuzz. They weren’t too enthusiastic about it at the beginning. They never heard of the film before and the DVD art looked tacky. They thought it’s just a moronic comedy. Instead they discovered a clever, hilarious spoof of American action films and British rural mysteries. And that’s what DMG has done for me time and time again. Helped me discover those gems that I never heard of or didn’t much care for.

The DMG was edited and partially written by Mick Martin and Marsha Porter. They were assisted by a hardy group of film reviewers. (just like the Maltin guide. Although his face is on the cover, he cannot review everything by himself ). So it’s amazing that DMG managed to stay so consistent over the years. That’s what I call great editing, and the kudos here go to Mick and Marsha.

I had a short e-mail correspondence with Mick Martin where he explained to me what happened. DMG was discontinued on September 2006, right around the time when the last edition was published. He and Marsha tried their best to find another publisher but to no avail. DMG has its fans. People want it back. The decision to cancel it, while Maltin’s and other yearly review books keep being published is a real shame.

They’ve cancelled the best film reference book out there.

I don’t know if there was decline in sales. I don’t know if it’s for other reasons. I just know that the reason Random House gave Mick Martin was “because you can get it for free on the Internet”. I’m a heavy Internet user. I spend a lot of hours on-line, whether it’s at work or at home, and unless you’re a webmaster and that’s your job, I don’t think anyone ruins his posture in front of a computer more than I do. And if I’m ready to keep buying the DMG than I can’t imagine anyone else not doing the same thing.

“You can’t stop progress”, someone might say. “Books are a way of the past”, someone else might add. Well, screw that. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Kindle).

DMG writers used to do something unique (at least as far as I know): Although it was extremely rare, from time to time they used to change a movie’s rating, their reasons being because times change, points of view change, or maybe a “movie just caught us on a bad day”. It’s a remarkably humble statement for a “critical” reference book.

Too bad Random House won’t do the same for them.

Any other publisher out there? Come on, people.

We’ll give you five stars,

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28 comments so far

  1. Ruth on

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I feel the same way you do about the guide, and was truly sad that it won’t be back. I only have Netflix’s number of stars to go by as a quick way to see movie ratings before renting, and they are not always accurate. I especially will miss the indexes in the back to look up movies by director, actor. I’m sure there are many more people who feel like us.

  2. shelberman on

    Those big reference books are the first to go with the Internet revolution. The guide you speak of is going the same way encyclopedias and dictionaries are going. If what you miss is the content, and not the paper, is there no initiative to put this wonderful guide online? (Maybe even inside IMDB)

    • Lior on

      I do miss the paper and I love the book format, but if someone would tell me that the choice is between having the guide online than not have it at all, then of course I would prefer the online option. It won’t be the same, of course. Part of the fun with the DMG was always that it was a BOOK. A book that you can just browse through, have it lie on your coffee table and reach for it whenever you feel like without touching a mouse or scroll down a screen. Perhaps I’m being a hopeless romantic here. Perhaps I’m clinging to the past. But what will follow the reference books and dictionaries? Are we on our way to a world without actual, physical books? I shudder at the thought.
      Anyway, as far as I know there are no plans to put the content online as of right now. There was once an attempt to create a website which will host all the reviews but it was scrapped.

  3. Ruth on

    I do love the accessibility of the book format, too. But I’d accept an online version. Even if they sold it on a CD as reference, like they do for some encyclopedias still, I’d buy it.

    • Lior on

      Ruth, I remember Mick saying they were not interested in going online with the book. I don’t remember if it was via e-mail or if I read it someplace else. He didn’t give a reason, as far as I recall.

      Again, there used to be website that was supposed to run in tandem with the book but it was dropped since there wasn’t enough manpower to maintain it.

  4. 2cats&aLady on

    Thanks for your info. I too have been looking at online bookstores about every 6 months for the latest book version of DMG! My 2007 copy is great but I’d like reviews of the newer films too. I love it, and I need a new one! Leonard Maltin’s version is very inferior. It doesn’t even have complete actors list! (I won’t be buying his books anymore) I’m very letdown to finally know there won’t be any updates!
    Thanks again got your site…guess I’ll have to console myself to the loss of a great book!

  5. Deb on

    Like the blog author, I am a heavy internet user. I use an online DVD rental site and frequently read online movie reviews. But NOTHING takes the place of Mick Martin’s excellent DVD review book, which I’ve been purchasing annually for more than a decade. Sitting at the computer surfing is not at all comparable to relaxing on one’s couch with favorite movie review book at hand, watching a newly discovered gem. My tattered 2007 copy sits on the coffee table and I pick it up almost daily, checking out other movies by a favorite actor, looking up films by a certain director, browsing through the movie reviews for more undiscovered gems.

    It is interesting to note from the many online comments how many people feel that the DVD & Video Guide perfectly reflects their tastes. My feelings exactly! This is a movie review book that you can count on. The authors have a knack for producing concise, dead-on reviews that tell you exactly what you wanted to know. None of the other publications remaining on the shelves come anywhere close, in terms of comprehensiveness, clarity, cross-referencing, and overall quality.

    Random House/Ballantine Books really dropped the ball on this one. And angered a lot of loyal customers. Hopefully they will reconsider publishing future editions.

    • Lior on

      Thank you all for sounding your opinion. This post is a kind of “fight” against the internet for taking our favorite film book from us, and still, it is that same internet that allows us to share our thoughts about the DMG. When I bought the first edition back in 1993 I didn’t even have a computer, not to mention internet. So I enjoyed the DMG in a kind of isolation and was considered by others to be a peculair person just because I read the entire tome from cover to cover. Yes, the reviews were that good.

      I will make a guess here that what drove Ballantine to their unfortunate decision is taking in account the younger generations. The idea that nowdays people in their 20’s won’t bother with a book if they can find the same info online. I’m in my mid 30’s and been buying this book for 14 years. It was a tradition for me. A ritual. I don’t know what the average age of the DMG reader is. But many of the people clamoring to publish the book again seem to be long-time readers like myself.

      I guess we’ll just have to realize we’re old geezers.

  6. Lisa Pearson on

    This movie guide has been THE GIFT to my dad every birthday of his for years. He always looks forward to it. My folks have every copy for at least the last 10 years floating around their house in varying places…and us kids still love to grab it and randomly look up stuff. When I went to buy it last year, I was truly heartbroken to find that it wasn’t being made. I ended up giving him a horribly poor substitute in the Leonard Maltin guide because it was all I could find. And it sits with dust collecting….

    I WANT THIS GUIDE BACK!!! It is awesome. We have had so much fun choosing movies over the years…please someone bring this back!!!

  7. Lou Aber on

    Please give us our guide again! The reviews were great and the indexes were a huge help in tracking down movies and actors. Our local paper has a lousy movie guide using only part of the title for old movies, so the indexes really help. What is the link to cajole, beg or whatever to get Sterling to reconsider?

  8. Chris Conboy on

    Darn shame that this guide is no longer being published.

  9. Victor Finger on

    Thanks for a great review! And someone DOES need to continue publishing this book! It’s the best movie guide ever published and the only one I ever bought – and will ever buy. Have you see what suppliers are asking for a new 2007 copy??? Over $2,000!!! That’s almost as insane as not publishing the guide… ; )

    Victor

  10. Victor Finger on

    You know, the problem with all of the information in the guide being on the Internet – it’s not sitting on your end table at your fingertips for quick access! My copy was always within reach whenever I watched a movie (or movies). I don’t know about the rest of you, but I NEVER watch a movie with my laptop at my fingertips! (And I’ll never own any type of smart – ha! – phone.) Besides where would I put the popcorn, pop and milk duds???

    Victor

  11. Barbara on

    Well my husband just told me that the for last few years he forgot to write down a book that he has been wanting for Christmas…I haven’t the heart to tell him that DMG has been cancelled!

  12. jans on

    I would buy an iPhone App of this even if it costs $
    9.99

  13. Catherine Scala on

    I’m just getting around to finding out about the untimely and ill advised demise of the guide. We’d been meaning to upgrade from our 2005 edition with a new one since 2007, never realizing it had become extinct the year before! Crap!! Is nothing sacred or safe now because of the internet? Or is that just the all too convenient excuse for wholesale elimination of anything in the wake of chasing profit over substantive value? Like the myth that the Postal Service is losing billions because of the internet and email. Those billions are the Congressionally mandated prepayment of 75 years worth of estimated retirement and health benefits to be amortized over a mere 10 years! Separate that burden from the bottom line and the USPS is still making a hefty 7 figure annual profit on services and product sales, and they still deliver 25% or more of UPS packages to customers, and unlike Brown, did not miss any timely pre Christmas deliveries! So – back to the question of ” the internet did it” – what’s next? Are doctors going to hang up their white coats because patients can get their medical info on the internet? The internet truly is a two edged sword.. Catherine

  14. shalimar mcdougall on

    PLEASE bring back this book. I detest the way we are being forced to do things “the new way” when the old way was better!

  15. Tim Maples on

    I miss this book so much. I had two editions, the 1993 and 1998 and I still have both. I won’t go into why I love the book so much because enough has been said already, but I can give you a quick little story about it.

    I read this guide cover to cover as a teenager probably more than once. To this day, I’ll dare some friends to name off some movies (preferably from the 80s or 90s) and I’ll tell them what year it came out. I can also dominate pretty much anyone in movie trivia. It’s not so much that I’ve seen a lot of movies, but because I read this guide so much back in the day. A local bar used to host a trivia nights twice a week and they always had a theme. Whenever it was movie trivia, I’d always go and walk out with the prize every single time.

    New technology is always give and take. Sure, IMDb is much more comprehensive, but nothing beats having a book in your hands and just randomly flipping through the pages and reading about films. A little game I like to do is opening the book to a random page and seeing how many movies on their I’ve seen. If I can’t decide on something to watch, just open it up blindly and see what films are on those two pages and just go with one. You can’t do that on the internet. I’ve learned more about film from these books than I have anywhere else. They were made with film buffs in mind since their big selling point was a cast and director index. The Academy Awards section was also a big plus.

    I wish they’d bring it back because I’d buy it again in a second.

  16. Jim Mohundro on

    Years ago, when I started collecting films on VHS and since on DVD (I converted all my VHS tapes to DVD), set up,maintained and regularly updated an MS Access database of my collection and attempted to get my wife interested in “the classics,” she sort of demanded that my database also list the films’ ratings by several reviewers. I finally settled on the VMG, Maltin’s book, Schreurer’s book, Halliwell’s Guide and the Motion Picture Guide (a source used by many libraries and newspaper syndicates) and Roger Ebert’s reviews.

    They’re all gone now but, since my principal collecting is of older films (and I’ve also been teaching a film class for the past four years), I continue to return to these six sources and simply read and take an arithmetical average of each of the reviewers’ rating for my database’s (not mine, necessarily) star rating. There is enough of a difference in the rating approaches of the six sources to provide, at least to me, a pretty fair “relative” rating, and, because I’m using a database program, I can sort by rating, title, actor(s), genre, etc.

  17. Jason Barney on

    I also loved that guide too. It helped me get my moneys worth renting good films and saving from the turkeys. Please bring those movie guides back!!!

  18. Frank Henderson on

    i went to Barnes & Noble today to purchase the latest edition of Mick Martin’s DVG and was shocked to learn it was no longer available..they did have a much larger similar book but the $26 price tag put me off…I guess I’ll have to use some of Red Greens favorite “Duct Tape” to keep my 2006 version usable. How does one “Browse” unfamiliar titles on the internet?

    • Lior on

      Frank, the guide has not been available for 8 years… if your latest is the 2006 one you must have worn it out pretty good, so good luck with the duct tape…
      The Internet is all there is now. You can browse movies pretty easily on sites like IMDB. Sign up to Letterboxd.com and see what others are watching and recommending. It’s not as nice as using a book with focused reviews, but some would say it’s faster and/or easier. In any case, I still use the 2007 guide (the last one that came out) once in a while.

  19. Jim Mohundro on

    The IMDB can provide a fair amount of technical information, although not always with great completeness of information, but it provides no professional reviews–to the extent that those might be important for you–but its ratings are reflections wholly of the popularity to its readers of the films. As far as summary plot descriptions are concerned, Wiki is about as good as any and often has bits of perhaps interesting miscellany as well. Since most of my film classes deal with pre-1980 films, When I’m looking for ratings and reviews, I often refer to those sources I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, and sometimes even go back to the New York Times and New Yorker review archives and some reviews by Pauline Kael and a favorite of mine, Richard T. Jameson. As for current films in theatres, I use the New York Times, the New Yorker, the London Times, and, often, local Seattle critics, and, of course, my reactions to those current films I view in local film theatres.

    • Lior on

      IMDB has an “external reviews” section. Most of these reviews are from professional or semi-professional film critics/reviewers. If one looks to reviews to decide on which films to watch, just sift through till you find one or two critics with a similar taste to yours and you’re good to go.

      I would’ve loved to see the guys behind DMG review movies online. This is the only website that comes close: http://derrickbang.blogspot.ca/ it is by Derrick Bang who was the chief editor of the DMG for many years. Long time readers who miss the DMG style might enjoy his blog since I’m pretty sure he wrote many of the reviews which appeared in the books. I believe he also uses the same rating system or very similar to it.

  20. Jim Mohundro on

    Lior,

    Thanks for the tip on on IMDB’s “External Reviews.” I’ve been quite unaware all these years of this link in a submenu and the resultant review links. It seems easier to get to, say, Ebert, for those reviews between 1967 and the time of his passing. I’m not aware of DMG; what’s the “D” represent?

    • Lior on

      The DVD Movie Guide (actually, the full name was DVD and Video Movie Guide but I just shortened it). 🙂

  21. Nancy Baldwin on

    Totally in agreement with everything you said. It is now 2017, and I still get my old DVD and video guide with fondness. There really is no place out there to get reviews as helpful as these were. And I use IMDb a lot. Why don’t they publish a Mick Martin and Marsha Porter guide online?
    Still grieving.

  22. Jim Mohundro on

    Who’d be the Mick Martin and Marsha Porter?


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