If there's ever such as a thing as an archetypal Discworld novel, Moving Pictures is probably it. Pratchett finds a facet of our everyday life that he finds interesting and transplants it to the Discworld, where he subjects it to all kinds of satirical analysis and character explorations, having a huge amount of fun in the process. He'll later do the same thing to rock music (Soul Music), the theatre (Maskerade), Christmas (Hogfather), war (Jingo), the press (The Truth), the post office (Going Postal), banking (Making Money) and football (Unseen Academicals), among many other examples.
It's a solid format and one that results in a much greater variety of stories than you might expect, although there is the sense that Pratchett didn't have much more of an idea here beyond "Discworld movies" before starting writing, as the plot only loosely comes together. It's certainly not as tightly-plotted and constructed a novel as Mort or Guards! Guards! That doesn't stop it being entertaining. It helps that Pratchett avoids contemporary movie references (the novel came out in 1990) in favour of more classic and long-lived ones. A series of King Kong gags are fortunately still relevant thanks to more Kong movies being made, although the Keystone Kops and Laurel and Hardy references might go over younger readers' heads. One joke feels stunning prescient - a troll actor calling himself "Rock" and there being widespread mirth at the idea of an actor with such a name - until you realise that Pratchett is referencing Rock Hudson rather than Dwayne Johnson, but amusingly that joke still works for the next generation. It also helps that some of the things Pratchett was mocking - advertising, product placement and crass commercialisation - have become if anything even more dominant forces in modern films.
The book features some more world and character-building. The tendency of Unseen University Archchancellors to have a briefer lifespan than terminally depressed lemmings living next to the Grand Canyon comes to a merciful end with the arrival of Mustrum Ridcully, whose terminal cheer and straightforward approach to all problems causes shockwaves through the establishment (most of them landing on the head of the Bursar, still semi-sane at this point, although his decline into bewilderment arguably begins when Ridcully nearly shoots him in the face with a crossbow). Unseen University also gets most of its regular cast: the Dean, the Lecturer in Recent Runes, student genius Ponder Stibbons and the ancient Windle Poons. We also meet Gaspode the Wonder Dog, and more character development for characters introduced in Guards! Guards!, such as Detritus the troll and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, who gets his biggest starring role of the series.
The book's biggest problem is pacing. Pratchett is usually very good with this, packing a lot into a modest 300-400 pages and then clearing out when the story is done, but Moving Pictures feels a bit sluggish, probably a result of the author knowing where he's starting and finishing, but a bit vague about making it join up in the middle. The book also arguably has a few too many endings, with several big climaxes in a row rather than one bigger, more elegant ending. Also, the fact that Victor and Theda become the biggest stars on the Disc only to go completely unmentioned in later books is odd, although possibly also a commentary on how the biggest actors can completely vanish from view after a few years in the doldrums.
Moving Pictures (***½) is a fine, readable but distinctly second-tier Discworld novel which has a ton of great ideas which don't entirely cohere into strong whole. But, as usual, Pratchett delivers enough laughs, intelligent observations and quotable lines to make the book worthwhile. It is available now in the UK and USA.
I previously reviewed the novel here.