It's a good thing that the Paramount 100 Years of Movie Magic app for iPad is so much fun despite itself. Those first few moments with the app remind you of everything tiresome about Hollywood business. The over-long “Forward” of too-small text from CEO Brad Grey is enough to make you wish for the days when the wooden Cecil B. DeMille did his big ego trip Hollywood struts. Then there is the page of acknowledgements and copyrights that makes you wonder if this is an entertainment app or a repurposed book. Oh, okay -- now the picture is starting. Shush!
Basically, the app gives us a century of Paramount filmmaking with some nice light history, a ton of stills, too few video clips, and a Scene It game in a free package. It is a brand giving itself a wet kiss, but this is still fun to watch. At the very least, it is quaint to think that someone out there (perhaps just Brad Grey) is under the delusion that a movie studio name matters to anyone but its stockholders anymore.
Paramount serves up a coffee table book with clips and interactivity that never rises to the level of creativity of the films it chronicles. There is no soundtrack (no, really -- in a film app?). There is no easy index to the films. The interface makes you tap too much in and out of the interface. I am not sure I see the basic distinction between the main part of the app that organizes films by “100 Years of Pictures” and “Films,” because it seems to me this is the same material -- just reiterated in two different interfaces. Some of the links that are supposed to let you “Watch Now” (especially for the older films) lead to nowhere. And the app handles multitasking poorly, because when popping back in after having been kicked out by a link to iTunes, it just restarts the app.
All that said, it is the movies, dammit. How can you not be absorbed by that still of John Wayne on the set of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," glaring at someone somewhere –- and you’re just glad it’s not you? Or Francis Ford Coppola conferring with Brando over "The Godfather" at a table where it looks as if Marlon has been stealing more than a few grapes?
This is why Hollywood is still going strong more than a century after it invented itself. Beyond all of the smarmy, slippery, crass and unimaginative businesspeople who actually run the industry, at its core it relies on hugely imaginative and gifted people who on occasion give us moments we want to revisit forever.