…bizarre

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While you are adding Dragon Hunters (2008) to your Netflix Instant Que. I have a really bizarre one for you: director Vadim Jean’s Hogfather (2006), a two part television movie based on Terry Pratchett’s novel of the same name. In fact most places title the movie Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather .

“Expect the Unexpected”

We were browsing Netflix for a family-friendly film we could all agree on; which is sometimes difficult. Netflix has a feature that suggests films using its data on what you’ve watched. So when Sean read  ‘because you watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, The Princess Bride, and Serenity’ we were done browsing. We were going to watch Hogfather. What followed was a long and strange 3 hours. Afterward, all I could say was “bizarre.”

I haven’t read any of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and I was still able to enjoy the movie. However, watching the movie, I did get the feeling that there are all sorts of interesting stories to hear about Death and his granddaughter Susan. I think we will check out the series.   I understand that the movie was mostly faithful in adaptation, primarily because Pratchett helped create the movie and even provides a cameo (the Toymaker Isme of the shop Toys Is Me).Understanding that there is a series does help with the introduction of the film, because otherwise that first part is–odd. The introduction to the Origin of Discworld should seem familiar, as if it is used at the entry of every Discworld book. On a film that you have little history on, a series you are unaware of, it comes off as potentially irrelevant and certainly overdone.

Seeing the Discworld rendered, Natalya (10) wondered about the Elephants, “why 4 Elephants?” and Sean (34) wondered, “If you took a boat and sailed to the edge would you fall off? and if you had a grappling hook could you catch the edge of the discworld and swing under to see the elephants?” Then the conversation turned to Turtles and their inability to smile, except on Finding Nemo (2003).

It is good to be in the frame of mind for Fantasy and in a state of good humor. There is a charming level of ridiculousness that references back to the Dr. Horrible, Princess Bride, and Serenity, but if that is not your kind of humor, I think Hogfather will somewhat painful.

It is good to just go ahead and trust that Pratchett knows how to tell a story (I am less familiar with Jean). The seemingly unrelated will find relations sooner or later. The wizards are not solely there for comedy and bafflement.

Oh, right, the story: “It’s Hogswatch (equivalent to Christmas) on the Discworld and the Hogfather has gone missing, requiring Death to take his place while his granddaughter Susan endeavors to find out what has happened.”~IMDb. Wow, that is quite straightforward,  isn’t it…

At first, it is not understood how much of a terrible thing it is for the Hogfather to have gone missing. The mystery and the adjustment to everything going on is enough. The complications are layered on in time and the movie takes its time progressing. On Netflix it is still the 2 episodes, don’t be afraid to take the two nights with this one. The pacing is somewhat uneven—course this could be because I was more eager for certain scenes and characters than others. There is also a lot of philosophizing about Fantasy and Believing. “Humans need fantasy to *be* human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape”—Death (Ian Richardson).

*****

Death: “It was some time after its creation when most people forgot that the very oldest stories of the beginning are, sooner or later, about… blood. At least, that’s one theory. The philosopher Daedactalus has suggested an alternative hypothesis: “Things just happen. What the hell.”

The above quote from the introductory narration (and later) is temporally disturbing but quickly lost in the wonder of the world/story building.  The story has its audience contemplating the movie’s topical concerns before the movie/story more overtly explores the more complicated (like myth origin).  Why do children believe in the Hogfather? Why would his disappearance be such a threat? What is Death’s role in all of this?

Death is the most amusing character, and at his heels is Susan (Michelle Dockery) who reminds me of Wednesday from The Adams Family all grown up and playing Mary Poppins. Her reading to the children:

And then Jack chopped down what was the world’s last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant’s children didn’t have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no-one asks inconvenient questions.

Back to Death. Death relays all sorts of interesting observations about humans, “Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.” His fumbling replacement as the Hogfather had me at times thinking of Jack Skellington of The Nightmare Before Christmas, earnestly trying to create a plausible exchange while still retaining his own personality.

Though Death needs his (also very funny) helper Albert (David Jason) to finesse the traditions associated with Hogswatch, he does understand why Hogswatch needs to succeed; which is a mystery some viewers will need the full 3-hours  to understand but may fail to wait for it. Hogfather makes a case for holidays and believing in Fantasy that is interesting no matter how you might lie in that argument, but in a way it is a Fantasist trying to convince a Fantasist. I am curious how well received the movie is by those who don’t usually care for Fantasy, or Mythical Figures like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.  Death makes for the perfect protagonist in this sort of story, he is the most universally agreed upon figure, though how he is portrayed might vary. In the film, he is the iconic grim reaper…though his grimness is suspect.

I mention the Tooth Fairy, and Hogfather does, too. The Tooth Fairy’s place in the story is a wonderful devisement. I would say more, but I’d hate to spoil this one.

A villain, Teatime (Marc Warren) is terribly creepy in that deliciously perfect way. “You were the kind of kid who couldn’t see the difference between throwing rocks at a cat and setting it on fire”—Susan to Teatime, “pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh, sir.”

The humor in Hogfather balances nicely with the creep-factor. And the weirdness provides just enough separation to make the discussions that find otherwise apparent relevancy for non-Discworld inhabitants engaging.

Neil Gaiman fans will be drawn Hogfather. Fans would likely know that Gaiman and Pratchett are great friends and have collaborated on more than a few projects.  They share an interest in Myth/Lore, the occult, and its trail back through Time.  “The very oldest stories of the beginning are, sooner or later, about… blood.” The Hogfather isn’t just about contemporary traditions and their subsequent amusements. As was alluded to in an earlier quote, humans need for fantasy or their ability to fantasize at all, is a fascination in the Hogfather. How Hogswatch and its modern trappings might still be “about…blood” is something I am thinking on. Feel free to share your ideas after (& if) you’ve seen the film; which is another thing about seating the story in Fantasy—it facilitates much safer conversations. Hogfather addresses Consumerism, but would not ignore deeper and more “primitive” motives; which is a much less comfortable topic of conversation for most.

As for the movie itself. I don’t recall much in the way of spectacular affects or frame-able art. The sets are nice.  The transitions are like flipping to the page or the next chapter. The imagination is carried off into remarkable realization. Yet, the presentation is, and it hardly overwhelms the story or the cast.  And the cast is great, by the way.

The film is family-friendly. Responses to it will vary. If you do like films such as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, The Princess Bride, and Serenity (Logan) than Hogfather is up your alley. Also, any other names/titles referenced are of similar suit. If Fantasy or Belief in Mythical Creatures or even celebrating Holidays using them, is not your thing—Pratchett is still worth the interest, certainly your curiosity. If you like British films/humor, you’ve already added this to your que—where else with you find a character Bilious, oh-god-of-hang-overs…

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (2006).

Director/Screenplay:  Vadim Jean.

Based on Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, (Discworld Series Book 20).

Out of the United Kingdom.

First broadcast on Sky One (Official  Website).

185 minutes, 2 parts.

IMDb link.

Wiki link.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. ibeeeg says:

    Well now…you have just increased my queue. Good to know that it is available via instant stream (love that feature). This sounds like a movie that we all will enjoy in this household. Well, except for GD and IJ although GD will probably sit through it, and probably not the movie for her, but hey, what can a family do when the ages of the children range from 20 – 4? Well, that means the 4 year old sees things that oldest ones did not at her age. {{Shrug}}

  2. Discworld has been on my radar for a long time, too, and I went so far as to buy the first book and put it on my shelf, but then I got into other stuff and never picked it up again. I’ve not forgotten about it, and the whole thing is supposed to be the absurd type of humor I love with a great fantasy backdrop. Anyway, I want to read these books some day, and perhaps watch this film eventually, too. Either way, this sounds like a fun/odd movie.

  3. Santa says:

    As to your questions about the edge and if you could send an “expedition” over the edge to discover more info about the elephants & the turtle … you will want to check out “The Color of Magic” another film taken from a book in the Discworld series that addresses that very question (among others). It also features Death (though not Susan), and features an interesting performance by Sean Astin.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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