Wonderfully intriguing, offering extreme amounts of control and fascinating gameplay, but can become a lot to handle.
But that's for later. The Movies essentially works like this: if you start the career mode, you are a brand new, up-and-coming movie studio head in the novel age of 1930s, after this new fangled invention called "motion pictures" has become a viable form of artistic (and economic, of course) expression. You have your shiny, sexy new studio lot that you get to build from the ground up with your starting funds, and the adventure is on! Crowds of hopefuls line up at your buildings, and you hire them to respective roles on the studio that will help you maintain and make some successful movies (i.e., actors, directors, builders, janitors, crew, extras, etc.). Once you've built all the starting buildings you'll need, and hired all the crew that's necessary, you're ready to produce your first movie! You're charged with hiring screenwriters to write up a script, and allot time for the cast and crew to research the script; once the preparation period is over, the cast and crew head to the appropriate set on your lot, and begin the filming process!
For the filming process, the options are basically limitless. There are screenwriting buildings which crank out generic films that are default to the game, in five different genres of film. These films are pretty basic, but you have free reign to edit them in their presentation forms (camera angle, lighting, background) as your ant-like directors film. But eventually, the option of a new screenwriting facility is unlocked, which allows you to pursue the more unique aspect of this game: custom filmmaking. When creating your customized film, the sky in nearly the limit. You get to choose the actors you prefer for the roles, the costumes, the sets... every single scene of the movie is completely customizable. Lionhead provides several generic scenes for you to include in your movie, ranging from talking with friends, smoking moodily, or epic warfare gunfights. You can include as many scenes as you wish in your custom movie. Once you're finished, the script is treated exactly as the generic scripts are, sent to pre-production, and then the filming stage. Since these films are already customized by the player, no editing is needed, and you come to the real heart of the gameplay.
Yes, as much as The Movies is outwardly aimed toward the custom creation of unique, vibrant, entertaining short movies, the real aspect of the game is the running and maintenance of your studio facility. And this is a hefty task indeed, especially if you don't realize what you're getting into before it's too late. You need continuously pump out movies to the public so you can maintain a decent revenue, and the more actors/directors/staff you have at your studio, the more money you'll be spending out of pocket. Furthermore, the movies should be as high quality as you can muster, or else the return from your audiences in theatres won't be very high. To increase the quality of your films, you need to hire actors and directors skilled at making movies. Unfortunately, each genre of film has it's own unique experience set, meaning one actor who is skilled with comedy's can't exactly be ported over to that last minute horror film.
And this is where the daunting difficulty of the game can begin to emerge. The only way to raise the experience of actors and directors in genres you desire them to be skilled at is by either filming these movies continuously until they learn a thing or two, or by having them practice their skills at the sets around your studio. Simple, yes? But nothing can be that simple. Not only do you have to maintain these little character's skill levels in genres, but you also have to worry about the plethora of other concerns these needy little overpaid actors have. Work them too hard, and they'll get stressed; maybe they'll crave a pay raise, or a trailer, or would rather socialize with people than film their movies; maybe they have personal concerns, such as not feeling beautiful (yes, this is a concern within the game), being an alcoholic and ending up at the studio's bar to drink themself silly, or overeating and ruining their physical appearance. NEEDY LITTLE BUGGERS!
Obviously, keeping your entire acting and filming crew happy is the entire challenge of the game, as anyone throwing a hissy fit will completely impede the filming process of your movies, which impedes your cashflow, which results in some very sad times. As if this weren't the only concern, you also have to continuously make sure your studio is maintained, and older buildings are kept in tip top shape by your building and janitorial crews. Your lot's beauty factor is also important, as a trashy studio won't make anyone happy; you have to plant trees like Arbor Day was going out of style, and beautify the area, not to mention constantly constructing the slew of new sets and buildings needed as time passes, and the desires of film-going by your abstract movie-going audience increase. It's exhausting merely discussing the entire inanity of it all; there are literally so many things to do in The Movie that it's easy to become completely engrossed and engaged, or get completely left behind by all your little movie-making people.
The game, as a result of the aforementioned inanity, is quite difficult unless you happen to have the multitasking skills of a secretary and the patience of a Tibetan monk. But perhaps that is part of the challenge? Regardless, the game requires a lot of immersion on the part of the player. The level of customization is fascinating, and if you're looking for strictly this aspect of the game, you'll be pleased to know there is a sandbox mode that allows you nothing more than the custom-filmmaking aspect. Furthermore, there are other extra-curricular functions of the game, such as custom game creation (being able to set the starting decade (1930s-1970s) as well as several other details which can make the game easier on the player) and actor creation, so you can customize your own little actor for your simulation pleasures.
So... is The Movies fun? This is quite the difficult question to answer. Being able to create your own custom movies offers a wonderful sense of achievement upon its creation, as you can kick back with some popcorn and check out your creation. If you're into the management of things, well there are certainly many things to manage, so you'll never get bored. And if you're into the simulation aspects of things, this is one of the most immersive, detailed simulation games I've ever encountered, with so much depth and attention to detail. But when you combine all these aspects, the game is almost TOO immersive, in the same way as a three-course dinner: yeah, all the food is delicious, but it's hard to consume so much food at once, no matter how hungry you are. But by no means should this issue of intensity affect your desire to play this game. Honestly, The Movies is one of the most intriguing games to come out of the Lionhead Studios camp, and one they can certainly be proud of. The moral behind The Movies: A grand (dare I say cinematic, or is that far too cliché a saying for the purposes of a review) game of great breadth, that will completely enthrall you if you let it. But if you find yourself encumbered by almost irresponsible amounts of things for you to do within the game, don't say you weren't warned.