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The Hogfather

Film Two Stars

I've never read any of Terry Prachett's work before, so when I first received The Hogfather for review I had no idea what it was. However I am familiar with Pratchett's work and through friends understood the basic outlines behind some of the characters and the world which they exist.

Not having read Prachett's stories I wouldn't have thought to have been at a disadvantage for this two part, four hour mini-series just released on DVD. Yet I was, and perhaps the fault lay in the first onscreen adaptation of the rich and deeply developed Discworld.

TheHogfather.jpgYou see it seems that there is so much in Discworld that the filmmakers have tried to make the series just as rich and multi-threaded as the stories themselves, and that just doesn't seem to quite work.

That said, if you can just let scenes and sections of dialogue pass by, and live with some degree of confusion then you'll end up finding some enjoyment in the tale. I'm sure if I was a fan of Discworld, and had read some of the books, then I'm sure I would have found much more in this story.

Hogfather takes us to Discworld on Hogswatch, a night not dissimilar to that of Christmas. The Hogfather has gone missing, and for some strange reason Death has taken his place trying to keep the belief in Hogfather alive, for if it fails the sun won't come up. At the same time he hopes that his Granddaughter, Susan, will get to the heart of the mystery.

The story can be confusing, and I assume for those familiar with the stories it may not be so. Dialogue often races through back story and Discworld history, and it can prove difficult to keep up and understand what they are talking about.

I found that I was often better to let these moments wash over you and keep going with the story. However this did mean that the beginning of the first part was often confusing and felt disjointed, visiting characters and scenes which didn't seen to be connected with the story.

In time though, the story had caught up and there was enough back story told on screen to allow me to enjoy the tale on its own. Yet during the early part of the first half I was feeling that the story was leaping around without a clear direction or purpose, but they do come together later in this half.

It can also feel a little slow paced at times, with characters standing and looking around them, watching events occur rather than doing anything about them. This feels particularly strange when you see a character like Susan urging others on, complaining that time is short.

This happens a few times, and towards the end of the second half she seems to stop in the middle of a fast paced story line and gaze around at events, disengaged from them rather than getting involved. In this way it often feels like a stage play with only one character getting the audiences attention at any time.

Yet it's not all bad, some of the characters are wonderful, and perhaps the best is Death. He's a fantastic character who probably has most of the greatest lines, particularly between him and his assistant Albert.

The dialogue between the characters is often incredibly insightful and contains quite a bit of philosophy, the writing here is very strong and comes through really well.

His presence, voice, and seemingly naïve understanding of humans provides an extremely clever and dry wit. For me Ian Richardson's Death was the best character of the film, with the strong Marc Warren playing the assassin Tea Time. Just these two names alone show the great cast involved, including Tony Robinson, Nigel Planer, David Jason, and so on.

The story itself is good, although as it tries to explain back story and pull in almost too many characters and ideas.

Something that is amazing about the film is the production value of the mini-series. The sets and effects are superb, and really do help make the world real. Combine that with the interesting characters and once you get into it you have a very rich tale.

I would definitely recommend this to those who have read the book or are already Discworld fans, for those who aren't familiar with the world I would suggest that you pick up and read something of Pratchett's world before heading to the DVD.


Picture


Presented: Widescreen, Anamorphic
The picture is sharp and strong, and with the great production values and effects it does look really good. Initially I had thought that the values would be quite low on a Sky two part production of quite a large fantasy film, however I was very wrong.

Sound

Presented: DD 5.1 There's a good use made of cinematic sound, again something I thought wouldn't have been a priority for a Sky mini-series production, but there has been a lot of thought put into the spatial aspects of the sound and there's a lot of audio that comes from behind as well as moves across the speakers.

Extras

Presented: 12 Days of Hogwatch, The Making of Hogwatch, Deleted Scenes, Gallery, Trailers

Menus
The menus themselves are quite well done, and even make use of the full range of speakers. Make sure your volume isn't turned up too loud, as all that wind and dripping water lulled me into a false sense of security.

12 Days of Hogwatch
This features twelve short episodes where the character of Death visits various people involved in the film and the books themselves to talk about the world and some of the characters in it. Although these are short, and the repetetive nature of the introduction and closing line from Death is somewhat annoying, it provides a lot of inside information.

The Making of Hogwatch
This is a huge Making of featurette, coming in at a mammoth forty eight minutes long. This is perhaps one of the most insightful featurettes I've seen, and looks into the filming, as well as having lot's from the lead actors, the director Vadim Jean and from Pratchett himself.

Deleted Scenes
There's only a couple of deleted scenes, and you can see why one is deleted and the other just confuses me more about the back story of Hogfather as the film did.

Gallery
Quite a large selection of pictures from the set, of the characters of the story and of Discworld itself.

Trailers
A Night at the Museum
Eragon
The Simpsons Movie
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer


The Hogfather on Amazon UK
UK IMDB Film Details





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Comments

I must say I'm kind of interested in seeing this now, although at the same time I'm wary of Pratchett adaptations. (I haven't seen the animated versions that have been done before this one.) Pratchett's books are such, well, books. Which is possibly an odd thing to say, but what I mean is that they're obviously designed as books. They don't give the impression of being written with an eye to being turned into films like a lot of modern books seem to. A film adaptation, or at least so I suspect, would have to fail to translate some of the books' best details, like the footnotes or the way Death speaks in small capitals without quotation marks. How would a film render the colour octarine? What about the sheer wordplay? That sort of thing.

And you hit upon the key problem for potential newcomers to the Discworld series; if you don't make a point of starting at the beginning like I did, you soon find the later books have lots of references to earlier ones, not usually in a way that you'll be completely lost if you haven't read the earlier ones, but the experience is richer is you have. The characters and places are usually already well-established. Launching into the series with, say, Hogfather means you're missing a lot of scene-setting from earlier books.

James I can't say you realise Death speaks in small capitals, but there is a beauty and elegance to the way he speaks. I really did love the dialogue between him and Albert.

I just feel there was too much to try and put into one film. However, as I said, if you are a fan it will probably turn out to be very good. I've read that fans who have hated the animated versions really liked this mini-series.

Ian Richardson as Death does sound like a great piece of casting. I can just imagine the voice of Francis Urquhart speaking those small capitals.

Interesting that your next review should be Eragon. I must say that reading Pratchett has made it nigh on impossible for me to take that sort of high fantasy seriously any more.

I wasnt overly impressed with this movie...

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