The 12th edition of the "Time Out Film Guide" (2004) has a totally new look. Gone is the drab unbleached paper of earlier editions, replaced now by glossy white paper printed in black with blue highlights. Many pages are in full colour. The "Time Out Film Guide" has always had classy contents, now it also has classy packaging. Another big change is the inclusion of 101 cinefile pages, each devoted to a long and fascinating review of a single film. Other changes are discussed below.
Of all the film guides, that by Time Out has certainly the best capsule reviews. They are longer and tell you much more about the artistic aspects of the film than either the Maltin or Halliwell guides, which are the main competition. Occasionally, because it gives you more detail on the plot, it sometimes makes small errors or tells too much. This is a small price to pay for analyses that are generally very incisive and right on the money. This is a great guide.
But it is not a perfect guide. No guide is.
Number of Reviews: The 2004 Time Out guide reviews slightly fewer films (about 15,700) than Maltin (about 19,000) or Halliwell (about 18,000). If you must have a guide that is likely to have a capsule review of every movie that comes up on cable, even if the reviews aren't nearly as detailed, then you had better get Maltin. (Note than Maltin has cross-references for UK titles, and sometimes even prefers them.)
Technical Data: If you wish a lot of technical data beyond duration, year, colour or B&W, widescreen process, country of origin, MPAA rating, director, and principal cast, which are the technical data in Maltin, then you should turn to Time Out or Halliwell, which also display systematically, for example, the producer, production designer, screenwriters, composer, cinematographer, editor, assistant director, and the title in the original language. Halliwell has a slight edge over Time Out in the amount of technical data (for example, it also tells you the production company and distributor) and it is also the size of a metropolitan telephone book.
Completeness: Does the "Time Out Film Guide" review all the really good films? No, but almost. Remember, this guide is a collection of capsule film reviews from a weekly London entertainment magazine (Time Out), and that magazine has been around only since 1968. Thus, if the film is much earlier than 1968 and hasn't been screened in a London repertory cinema in the last 35 years, you might not find it in the Time Out guide. It appears that for the 11th edition (2003), about 4% of the films rated **** or ***1/2 (Maltin) and 20% of the films rated *** (Maltin) aren't reviewed in the Time Out guide. This amounts to about 70 **** or ***1/2 films and 850 *** films (1/4 later than 1968). This situation has changed only slightly in the 12th edition. A solution to this problem: buy Maltin as well; it can be had for the cost of a small pizza.
Ratings: Dux Cinematographicus "Time Out" stellas non habet, as the ancient Romans were fond of saying, the "Time Out Film Guide" has no stars. The Time Out guide has wonderful analyses and technical data, but no numerical ratings of the films. You will find words like wonderful, masterpiece, disappointing or boring, but not systematically. Is the absence of ratings a disadvantage? I think so. Humans are pretty good at understanding ratings. They're good information, and one can absorb them much more quickly than an entire review. So what do you do if you must see stars? Same as before, you buy a copy of Maltin in addition to the Time Out Film Guide. The Halliwell guide rates only about 8000 of the 18,000 films it describes, so it's not as good as Maltin as a second guide for the ratings.
Lists: The "Time Out Film Guide" still has great lists but not quite the same as in the 11th edition. In the front of the book, the Readers' Poll is still there but not the Cinema Century Top One Hundred list (sadly missed) or the ten-best-film lists of about 150 Sight and Sound critics, replaced now by the "Ultimate DVD Collection" (I was not impressed). All of the lists at the back of the book remain intact. The actor and director lists, however, are now in chronological order with the dates, a great improvement. The lists by country of origin, by genre, and by special topic are unchanged except for updating. If you have a hankering to rent a film about construction workers or polygamy, lotteries or lawnmowers (I kid you not) you can still find a dedicated list in Time Out.
OTHER GUIDE CHOICES
Although not as good, in my opinion, as Maltin, Halliwell, or Time Out, it is worth checking out the "Martin & Porter DVD & Video Guide 2004," and the "TLA DVD and Video Guide 2004." Roger Ebert's movie yearbooks are superb, of course, but a very different animal from the movie guidebooks.
A FINAL WORD:
If you are going to purchase only one guide, my recommendation is Maltin's guide because of its completeness and ratings. For a second guide, the choice is certainly the "Time Out Film Guide." The two complement each other so well that it is hard to resist buying them both. For a third book to keep next to the tele, consider Ephraim Katz' "The Film Encyclopedia," a marvelous book packed with information.