Has it really been ten years?
Not quite, perhaps. The earliest roots of Decent Films go back earlier, to some film scribblings I did in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until about mid-2000 that I launched the very first version of the Decent Films Guide, a modest collection of some 35 capsule reviews that provided the occasion and excuse for me to take my first baby steps into HTML.
A whimsical graphical interface provided a fig leaf to the paucity of the content — the design probably called for almost as many images as there were reviews — but it made the site fun, I think. Anyway, I enjoyed the challenge of building it, and the challenge, in the ensuing months, of enriching the content behind the interface.
By mid-2001 I had outgrown the original site, both in terms of volume and Web development skills, and in September I launched a more robust redesign that served fairly well for the next few years. Eventually, my content outgrew my ability to manage it from a technical perspective — permanently. About five years ago, I sought — and received — help from a generous reader and Web developer named Simeon with more back-end chops than I. He did the back-end magic, I did the front-end design, and Decent Films was reborn, in more or less the form it’s been until now.
The 2010 edition Decent Films Guide is the most ambitious yet. In some ways, it fulfills the promise of what I had hoped to do in 2005 but wasn’t initially able to. As always, I did the design myself, and coded the HTML and CSS by hand, and piled Simeon’s plate high with wish-list items and proposed enhancements, which he has labored mightily in bringing to fruition.
The site as it is now is still a work in progress, with a few bugs in the process of being worked out, but enough of the pieces are in place to make it a major advance over the previous iteration of the site that has now been retired. What’s new about the new Decent Films? Here are some highlights:
This is a major advance over the old “See also” links, both because there is richer content and because it’s semi-dynamic so I don’t have to add all the links manually. (I say “semi-dynamic” because the connections are made by me, not by software — a very good thing in my opinion. It means I’ve put in a lot of work creating content groups, and will continue to spend time managing it, but with a lot less effort and a lot more payoff than was possible before.)
Readers who have often written to me to alert me to linking errors on the homepage will be glad to know that these, too, will no longer be coded by hand. No more clicking on The Princess and the Frog and wondering whether you might find yourself reading the review for 2012!
In most cases, Amazon links (for movies in the A range) are dynamic, meaning that you’ll get all editions of a given film — DVD, Blu-ray, single disc, special edition, etc. In some cases I target a single edition that is (I think) the one right edition to get.
Design and other enhancements include:
There’s probably more, but that’s what I’m thinking of at the moment. Like I said, it’s still a work in progress, and I hope that Simeon and I will continue to roll out small enhancements over the next few weeks and months. In the meantime, I’d like to know what you think of our efforts so far.
This latest exercise in site renovation has been an enormously invigorating and exciting; it’s also been humbling. Looking over ten years’ worth of writing has left me at turns pleased and dissatisfied, sometimes delighted, too often chagrined. There is so much room for improvement, so much to be done.
Every revamping of Decent Films has been a renewed impetus to write more and (hopefully) better — not least because my productivity always dips while I'm knee-deep in the renovation process, and I feel the need to make up for lost time. In particular, I hope that the new blog will offer me an opportunity to update more, to write more freely, and in particular to write frequent shorter pieces rather than always laboring long over one lengthy one. (Not that I will ever stop writing long, long pieces … y’all know me better than that by now.)
Obviously, I owe Simeon an immense debt of thanks — as does every reader who enjoys the site for what it has been over the last five years and is now becoming. I’ve done what I can to make Decent Films interesting to read and pretty to look at, but Simeon breathed the breath of content-management life into my empty templates, fielding my ever more-demanding wish list of proposed enhancements, bells and whistles, and making it all happen. Now, once again, Decent Films feels like too much site for what could be more and better content. If in the coming months and years I succeed in altering that equation, no small part of the credit will belong to Simeon.
While I’m on the subject, we are also deeply indebted to Mrs. Decent Films, the amazing and heroic Suzanne, homeschooling mother of six and the rock of support without which this site would not be possible. For her active support, encouragement and enthusiasm for my work, for offering a first response to nearly every word I write, for giving me up to regular screenings and allowing my stack of year-end screeners and DVDs to dominate our evenings every December and January, she deserves the gratitude of anyone who appreciates my work. Not incidentally, she also holds the world together while I watch movies and write. (On rare occasions she’s even written or co-written a few reviews; check them out.)
Finally, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to you, my readers over the last ten years or any subset thereof: Catholics and Protestants, Christians and non-Christians, agnostics and atheists. Thanks for reading, for caring, for thinking it over, for agreeing and disagreeing. I am humbled and honored by your interest and engagement, your thoughtful criticism and moral support, your just being out there reading. I hope to continue to repay your interest for years to come, and, God willing, to do better in the next ten years than I have in the last. Take a look around and let me know what you think.
The beginning, again.
This is the first completely new Decent Films in ten years. It’s also the first version ever that feels more or less complete to me. Not that there aren’t still bugs and tweaks to be addressed — and not that I wasn’t thrilled about the 2010 (and 2005) iterations when they were new.
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I’m a fan of the site, a regular reader, and enjoy your monthly appearances on Catholic Answers and other Catholic radio programs. Congratulations to you on your beautiful new site! It’s a huge improvement in terms of ease of navigation and logical user interfacing, and even though the graphic design changes are relatively subtle, they are a welcome sight and look great. Keep up the great work and apostolate you are doing here — I recommend your reviews to family and friends quite often. God bless!
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I take it from the “Coming Soon” announcement “The New Decent Films” in the “Coming Soon” box that you are redesigning the website. I realize it is taking a liberty, and probably an unhelpful one, to make comments about this, but I beg you to be careful. I enjoy reading movie reviews, but the reason I spend more time on your site than any other isn’t just that your reviews are better written and more insightful. It’s also because yours is one of the only sites I know where the pleasure of reading the reviews doesn’t have to compete with the pain of looking at them.
Your current design is simple but effective, attractive to the eye and soothing to the smell, and easy to understand and use. I can always rely on it to load quickly and not give me computer problems. It has everything logically arranged and free from distractions. It has very interesting exchanges in the mail column, but it doesn’t weigh down every page with dozens of vacuous comments.
How different is the common run of online movie criticism - and not just in cases where the review is on the website of some periodical or publication and has to follow its format. Almost always, the pages are busy, cluttered, and ugly, with links, search boxes, sidebars, and so on thrown in any which way with equal disregard for taste and convenience. That background on Roger Ebert’s site that vibrates when you scroll up or down is abominable. The pictures that everyone else feels the need to put in are usually counterproductive, either useless in showing you what the movie looks like, boring, or providing a regrettable spoiler.
Please, please, please be careful. Remember that when I want to see publicity stills, frame blow-ups, advertisements, or bloated comments boxes, and when I want to sit and wait while my computer struggles to load horrifically over-designed web pages, I have the entire internet at my fingertips. When I visit your site, I want a clean, simple design that will allow me to enjoy the work of the greatest movie critic I know in peace.
Of course, this is really a complaint about the web in general, not just movie reviews, but it seems to me it’s movie review sites out of all others that ought to look good. For a beautiful movie to be reviewed on an ugly web page seems a sort of blasphemy. Forgive the perhaps too impassioned tone of this email; it’s because I care. Merry Christmas and pax tecum.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.