"Claws and Saucers" Book Review
Written by David Elroy Goldweber
2012, 680 pages, Non-Fiction
Book released on June 20th, 2012
Starting in 2003, author David Goldweber began assembling an encyclopedia of every science fiction, horror and fantasy film created from 1902 – 1982, a journey that took nine years to complete. Claws and Saucers is a reference book that stands out in a world cluttered with movie guides. Goldweber takes the time not only to review the material, but offers personal opinions that invite readers to draw their own conclusions. The challenge of compiling an encyclopedia of this nature is that so many variations have come before and the internet contains endless amounts of information at the click of a button.
This book is thoughtfully filled with cross-referenced material so that it provides a very thorough yet concise analysis that elevates the reviews to more than just a collection of plot summaries. The material is presented in a casual manner that reads like an informal conversation, frequently connecting the movies with history, music, literature or comics. Goldweber offers personal anecdotes of when he first saw a particular title and provides entertaining trivia along the way. This is a refreshing aspect that conveys the author’s sense of enthusiasm, where the reader is heavily encouraged either to invest the time in watching a film or not.
Goldweber has studied eight decades worth of cinema and presents them here in alphabetical order as a guide to discover both old favorites and forgotten gems. Entries are presented following the basic layout of a series of categories and a grade scale in regards to elements with genre appeal. The title, director, running time and year of release are followed by a brief “What’s Happening” log line (one-sentence synopsis) and a “Famous For” factoid. A brief plot description follows, including mentions of any notable names that worked on the picture and a recommendation for similar films in the genre. The elements graded on a scale of 1 – 10 include action, gore, sex, quality and camp value. Sex appeal is determined by context as well as content, in that a titillating moment of nudity may score a higher rating than an extended rape sequence. Wrapping up each entry is a “Don’t Miss” favorite moment or “Notable Information” last-minute piece of dialogue or trivia.
One example (of the more than 1,500 movies reviewed and countless others mentioned) of the layout is: Sugar Hill (Paul Maslansky/1974/91 minutes/ color) What’s Happening: To avenge her murdered boyfriend, heroine conjures an army of zombies. Famous For: Blaxploitation picture with zombies. Recommended Viewing: J.D.’s Revenge. Don’t Miss: Zara “Mama” Cully played George Jefferson’s mother on TV’s The Jeffersons. Notable Information: “Been caretaker here for…forever.” Action: 7, Gore: 6, Sex: 6, Quality: 7, Camp: 7.
Some of the more obscure titles are not as readily available and the author notes that some entries required additional efforts to track them down. There is a general rule of thumb to follow that “lesser titles” receive a basic paragraph of space, but some personal favorites garner a larger footprint. The Exorcist is studied for half of a page, but Rollerball receives a full page-and-a-half of coverage. On average, well-received films are discussed over several paragraphs depending on Goldweber’s enthusiasm. It is nice that the “masterpiece” titles are acknowledged as such, and rather than parroting ideas, an alternate path is taken. In the case of Jaws, the author avoids relaying commonly-known anecdotes about the difficult production and offers instead some nifty trivia about great white sharks.
Goldweber states in his introduction that he is not a fan of violence for the sake of violence and does not enjoy films promoting rape or cruelty to animals. He balances his own views by reproducing comments made by other noted film critics, some during a title’s initial release. The inclusion of such content provides additional perspective as to how a movie was originally received and how audience positions have shifted over the years. Goldweber presents a general viewpoint and then responds with his own stance on the subject (i.e. if a film is perceived as a Red Scare analogy or as especially misogynistic, or is simply misunderstood material).
Claws and Saucers is a must-have addition to any genre-lover’s library. The two biggest problems readers will have are 1) This massive tome weighs four pounds and makes for some heavy bedside reading, and 2) readers will struggle with their priorities and time management skills as they wade through countless hours of movie viewing. Damn you Goldweber for writing such an awesome book…and leaving the window open for volume two (1982-2012)!!!