Is the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide app ready for its closeup?

Long before people went to the Internet for film information, movie buffs annually bought the latest revisions of huge paperback books like The Leonard Maltin Movie Guide and Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever. These were, and are, massive reference books; the current version of Maltin comes in at 1664 pages, and the current version of Videohound at 1700 pages. You needed a strong coffee table to hold these massive tomes.

Today there are many ways to get movie reviews, with IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes probably being the most popular sites. But there is a real virtue to reading reviews written by someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of film and a lifetime career of reviewing them. That's why I was very happy to find that the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide [iTunes Link] $2.99US, has morphed into an iPhone/iPod touch app, adding features that could never be found in books like streaming preview videos, and a tie-in to Netflix and iTunes along with the ability to email reviews from the app.

Upon launching the app you are presented with a scrolling list of Maltin's current picks. You can tap on them to bring up a full review, links to information on the director and major actors, and a streaming video preview of the film. If you have an Internet connection you can see the videos. If not, the option isn't even presented. I really like that, since unlike many apps that won't work without connectivity, the main database is always available for any iPhone/iPod touch running OS 3.0 or better.

To find a movie that's not currently in theaters, you fill in a search box with either the name of the film, or the name of a director or actor after tapping one of three buttons marked: Title, Cast and Director. If you're going after a movie title, as you type each letter, you are, or at least should be, presented with a list that gets more specific with each added letter. In practice, it just takes too long. I'm not a quick typist on the iPhone and in trying a handful of films, not one displayed anything until a few seconds after I finished typing the entire name. This is just too slow to be useful. When the film does come up, there is sometimes a video clip, and always a brief review of the film, poster art, and tappable links for the director and major cast. Choosing one of these will give you a scrolling list of all relevant movies. Tapping on one will bring up the movie's information just as if you typed in the title.

The major problem with this is that there is no back button from the scrolling list of movies, so it's pretty common to have to go back to the main screen and start again. Yes, of course, you should be able to remember the movie you started with, but sometimes a list is quite long and I feel that having a back button would be much better design.

When searching for the films of a director or actor it worked quite well, but the more you know the better it works. Typing in Julia Roberts after choosing cast was perfect, but typing Roberts brings up a list of anyone with Roberts in their name from Doris Roberts to Cliff Robertson. I guess that's to be expected, but in each entry displayed on the scrolling list, some but not many of the cast members are noted. More often than not, I couldn't find anyone named Roberts unless I drilled down into the movie and checked the cast list. It would seem to make more sense to display a listing of names to choose from and not just a list of movies.

Films can be assigned to a favorite movie list, and new lists can be created, which is quite nice, especially since these lists automatically back themselves up. If the film is available in the iTunes store a tap will take you out of the app and bring up the iTunes app allowing for purchase or rental. Other options include emailing a review, or for Netflix members a tap will bring up a screen where you can add the movie to your queue and designate if it should be at the start or end of the queue. Most apps that deal with Netflix, even peripherally, let you do more than that.

I also found that a lot of movies just weren't there. About three out of 10 times the app came up empty. The two movies I have at home now (Il Divo and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs) were not to be found.

I would recommend this app on the quality of Leonard Maltin's reviews which I've found are some of the best in the business, even though he hated Blade Runner, but I'm less than impressed with its design, speed and implementation.

What are you favorite movie apps, and why do you like them?

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