Microsoft has seen the future, and it's an electronic umbilical cord attached to you. With the release of its annually revised guide to movies and videos, Microsoft Cinemania 96, the monolithic software company may have hit on a way to form a closer bond with consumers: monthly online updates.
Like its two predecessors, Cinemania 96 boasts volumes of digitized reviews and movie bric-a-brac. The centerpiece is Leonard Maltin's 1996 Movie & Video Guide containing nearly 20,000 no-nonsense reviews. Supplementing it are more than 2,000 well-considered and generally more sympathetic assessments from Roger Ebert's Video Companion 1996 and 2,800 biting critiques from Pauline Kael's 1991 book, 5001 Nights at the Movies. There are also photos, audio snippets of dialogue, cast lists, excerpts from five other books, and clips from such crowd pleasers as Jaws and Star Wars.
What's different about 96 is that with a click of a mouse and access to the Web Cinemania 96 will bring you 10 to 20 new reviews a month via Microsoft's website (http://www.microsoft.com/cinemania). While the additions will be stored on your hard drive, they will automatically be incorporated into the guide for inclusion in any search you undertake.
The marriage of software such as Cinemania 96 with an online service appears to be a marketer's dream come true, though the updates cost nothing at least until Aug. 31. Microsoft hasn't said what will happen after that. Most likely you'll have two choices: Buy Cinemania 97 to keep getting them, or start paying. Never one to miss a trick, Microsoft has built in an additional cost for PC users who want to run Cinemania 96: Unless you've shelled out for Windows 95, the company's latest stab at world domination, you won't be able to operate it. B+