A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 305 – Hogfather

Hogfather – December 30th, 2010

After Christmas, when we were quite sure we’d finished up every Christmas movie in our possession and had moved on to other things, we discovered this sitting in a stack in the bedroom. Somehow we’d missed even putting it into our master spreadsheet, so when I’d gone through to note all the Christmas movies so we could tally them up and plan for the season, I hadn’t figured it into our plans. And then there it was, sitting there with some of our other things, taunting us with its 3 hour running time and Discworld Christmas plot. Since we’re well under a year left in the project (unless we get a sudden influx of over 100 more movies, which I don’t foresee happening), we didn’t want to leave this for next year, and it would be silly to watch it in, say, April. Thus, we have extended the holiday season a bit.

I read the book this is based on back when I was in college. I remember quite distinctly that I had been having an absolutely hellish month. I was worried about my classes. I was worried about my job. I was worried about everything. I was depressed, to put it frankly, and then one day I got back to my room in my dorm and this book was sitting in front of my door. Inside was a note from a good friend, telling me she’d read it so I could take my time with it and she hoped it would help in some small way. And it did. The book itself was fantastic and having a friend care was even better. So this one holds a special place for me. It was a bright point in a horrible time.

At its root, this is a story about belief and the purpose it serves. It taps into myths of childhood and twists them in the way that Terry Pratchett is so famous for. It’s about Christmas, or the Discworld version of it, but it’s mostly about mythology and folklore and why it’s important to us as humans. It’s all about storytelling, which I love about Pratchett. He likes to write about why people do the things they do and the importance of stories in daily life. And this one is made to be a big one. It’s about the assassination of the Hogfather, an anthropomorphic representation of the winter season and hope for the return of the sun after the solstice and all of the things that come along with this time of year. In the story he’s evolved quite a bit in the time he’s been around, shifting from a boar, killed as a sacrifice to ensure the rising of the sun, to a pig-faced man in a red and white fur suit who drives a sleigh drawn by pigs and delivers presents and pork products on Hogswatch Eve. And there are forces out there who want him dead.

The thing about this movie is that it doesn’t have the benefit of the considerable amount of explanation possible in a book. And it depends entirely on the vast amount of worldbuilding that Mr. Pratchett has done with the Discworld. If you were to watch this movie with little or no prior knowledge of the world it’s set in, I think you’d be rather lost in it. There’s very little in the way of explanation of who Susan is until rather late in the movie, when she explains that Death adopted her mother and took her father as an apprentice and they fell in love and she’s somehow inherited certain abilities. In the books, if you’ve read about Death and his adopted daughter and Susan’s childhood and all that, you know enough about her to know her place in the grander scheme of the world. If not, well, she’s still a rather kick-ass lady, but the finer points of just why and how she manages to kick so much ass and be who she is are lost. Which is a pity. But this is a movie made for fans. It’s a movie made for people who know the world and will be amused by the cameos of Nobby and Visit and the Death of Rats.

All things considered, the movie does do a good job of presenting the story and the world. It’s not that it doesn’t do its job. It’s that the book it’s based on also expects you to know things and the things you don’t know are explained in narration or footnotes and you can’t footnote a movie. It’s a case of the medium not being able to hold much more than the story it’s telling without getting overburdened. And I don’t fault it for that. It never tried to and I think if it had it would have been a mess. Better to be a movie for people who know and love the world and people who are willing to jump in without prior knowledge for a bizarre alternate Christmas adventure, with assassins and pigs and a skeleton in a Santa suit and a pile of teeth. I’m sorry we didn’t remember we had this in time for Christmas, but from now on I plan on making it part of our regular seasonal viewing.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hogfather

December 30, 2010

Hogfather

A couple days after Christmas, when we had completed our twelve days of Christmas movie reviews, we discovered this in one of the piles in the Bedroom. It had not made it into our Christmas plans because somehow it had never been entered into our spreadsheet of movies which we created way back when the movie a day project began. Because we discovered it after the holiday was already over we had a tough choice to make. Do we watch it now, five days after Christmas day, or do we keep it until next year in the hopes that our project will be extended that far? I was in favor of keeping it for next year, but Amanda isn’t altogether confident that we will get the 140 or so movies that would be required to extend our project that far. As it currently stands we’re going to run out of movies around July or so – so we decided to extend the holiday season and watch this tonight. We both have the day off, so we have time to watch an extremely long movie, which is good since this was originally a two-part television special and is rather lengthy.

This was the first of a new series of Discworld movies produced for SkyTV in England. I’m not altogether sure why they chose Hogfather out of the entire series to make into a film version. Perhaps they felt that the tie-in to the holiday season would mean that people who were not enormous fans of Pratchett’s work* would perhaps tune in to see a strange fantasy Christmas movie. If those people did tune in I’d imagine they were rather confused, since no effort is made to really explain who any of the characters are. In the case of most characters, such as Death and the wizards of the Unseen University this is alright since they are based on familiar archetypes, but then there’s Susan, who is a pretty major character throughout the film. It isn’t until halfway through that she explains to another character about how her father was an apprentice to Death and fell in love with her mother, whom Death had adopted. Unless you know this about her then she’s just a sort of practical and perhaps sinister kind of Mary Poppins in this movie. To really understand Sarah you would at least have to know the story of Mort.**

It seems slightly arbitrary therefore that this particular book was selected for the movie treatment, but overall I have to say I was pleased by the result. There’s always going to be a disconnect when you first see characters that have only ever been pictured in your mind portrayed on the screen, but for the most part I was delighted by the casting. Michelle Dockery is absolutely perfect as Susan. She’s all practical skepticism and level headed common sense. She perfectly captures the tolerant eye-roll of a sensible woman caught up in family matters that are as usual fantastical and potentially world ending. I was at first thrown by Marc Warren’s interpretation of Mr. Teatime,*** since he’s more creepy than sinister, but he quickly grew on me. I think they somewhat undermine his truly capricious and deadly nature by playing him somewhat for laughs, but it fit the overall mood of the movie. Joss Ackland is absolutely perfect casting as Mustrum Ridcully, the Arch-chancellor of the UU, and I loved every scene he was in. The entire spirit of the University was I think exactly portrayed here in the movie as I had seen it in my head.

Special kudos to both Ian Richardson as the voice of Death and the crew that brought the character to life for the screen. Skeletal hands are something very difficult to make work on screen, for example, and these ones are wonderfully articulate. The grinning skull of Death’s face is actually surprisingly expressive, given that it never changes at all – it’s all in the way he holds his body, the shrugs and gestures. Death has long been one of my favorite characters in the whole Diskworld cannon and here he is – exactly as I pictured him. He has just the right air of both understanding things beyond human ken and being constantly befuddled by people.

I’ll admit that for the most part I viewed this not so much as a movie as a visit with old friends. I have loved the Discworld books for so long that it’s just a pleasure to see somebody who clearly loves them just as much putting so much care into producing them for the screen. Oh, not everything was exactly as I pictured it (Nobby Nobbs for example was nowhere near as gruesome and misshapen as I thought he ought to be) but so much care and dedication clearly went into this product that it’s easy to overlook such things.

I note that the same team have gone back to the start and done a version of the Colour of Magic as well as the new adaptation of Going Postal which should be available soon. I look forward to owning and viewing those as well. And in the future I think this movie will make its way into our regular Christmas rotation.****

* Assuming that such people actually exist.

** Which was made into a stage-play I know, but was never a movie to my knowledge.

***Everybody pronounces it wrong the first time. Honestly, he doesn’t hold it against you.

****I realize that I say nothing here about the plot of the movie. This is because if you are unfamiliar with it I highly recommend that you go read the book. Heck, read all the Discworld books you can lay your hands on. Then when you’re done come back and view this movie – because until then you probably won’t enjoy it as much.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment