Top critical review
Trivial Movie Pursuit
March 29, 2017
NOTE: One of the authors notified me that this book was temporarily available for free on Amazon and asked me to write a review.
Everybody loves trivia, and everybody loves movies, so a movie trivia book is bound to have a following. Bill O’Neill and Steve Murray try to tap into that built-in audience with “Movie Trivia Madness,” a compendium of several hundred generally little known facts about the films, stars, and directors we love. Most people are going to learn at least a thing or two from this book, but the authors should have done their homework a bit better.
“Movie Trivia Madness” is divided into seven chapters, each dealing with a particular aspect of the film industry, including actors, directors, and famous films. In each chapter, the authors have a dozen or so headings devoted to a particular person or movie and usually provide two to four fun facts about each. At the end of each chapter is a numbered list of an additional 20 or so random facts pertaining to that particular category, followed by a short multiple-choice quiz.
Depending on a reader’s level of familiarity and interest in the movie industry, some of this material may be old hat, but I consider myself rather well-versed, and I learned a number of things from reading the book. For example, I didn’t know that Tom Hardy now sports a particular tattoo thanks to a bet he lost to Leonardo DiCaprio during the filming of “The Revenant.”
“Movie Trivia Madness” is not, of course, a reference book, so the authors aren’t strict in their categorization of particular bits of information. As a result, people interested in a particular actor or film may find different tidbits of information pertaining to their favorite in several different chapters. As an example, the authors devote quite a bit of space in a number of places to the various types of preparation by different actors for some of their best-known roles. Frankly, I felt this “Forrest Gump” approach to organization (“you never know what you’re gonna get”) was rather fun.
Somewhat less fun, however, were the amount of inaccuracies and incomplete information I found in “Movie Trivia Madness.” In an era of “fake news,” I was a bit curious as to the accuracy of some of the information in the book and how well it was researched. In that regard, I was disappointed. I didn’t try to verify the authors’ assertions in most cases, but a few obvious mistakes caught my eye, such as stating that Vince Vaughn appeared in the original “Jurassic Park” (it was the sequel), or that “How I Met Your Mother” was a movie, not a TV show. One fact I did check was a reference to martial arts star Tony Jaa quitting acting to become a Buddhist monk. That did indeed happen in 2010, but he since resumed acting and has been in several big name recent releases, including the last “Fast and the Furious” movie.
The authors also curiously omit some information that would have been interesting to learn. They note that Viggo Mortensen only got his role in “Lord of the Rings” at the last minute, replacing another actor, but don’t mention the other actor (Stuart Townsend). Similarly, they note that the actor originally cast as the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” lost the part because of an allergy to the makeup used. That actor was Jed Clampett himself, Buddy Ebsen, a detail almost as interesting as the fact that the role was recast due to an allergy. Failing to include details like that leave readers wondering who the actors being discussed were and makes “Movie Trivia Madness” seem sloppily put together.
The authors also have a couple of annoying writing quirks, most notably using the word “apparently” a lot in their descriptions, such as “Apparently, Stephen King attended a screening of [‘Pan’s Labyrinth’] and sat next to the director.” Either he attended or he didn’t; there’s no apparently involved. I don’t know whether the authors are doing this to hedge their bets when they can’t fully source something or it’s just a habit, but either way, using that word over and over is annoying.
Overall, I enjoyed “Movie Trivia Madness,” but the errors and sloppiness were bothersome. Many people probably won’t be upset by that, but I think that authors compiling a fact compendium, even one of trivial facts like this, shouldn’t have these types of mistakes in their book. I still recommend the book as a generally fun read (albeit somewhat pricey at $3.99 for the amount of information in it), but I do wish the authors paid more attention to facts and detail in what is, after all, a book of facts, trivial though they may be.