To continue in the vein of the bizarre. We found* another made for television film based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Vadim Jean directed the Hogfather in 2006, which was adapted for television from book 20 of the series. In 2008, another two-part movie directed by Vadim Jean aired on Sky One–The Color of Magic. This movie is based on Pratchett’s first two Discworld books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. While I say bizarre, The Color of Magic is less so in comparison to Hogfather. And it is also likely the most palatable of the two, appealing to wider audiences as well as younger ones.
A brilliantly comedic David Jason returns in a new role as Rincewind, a failed Wizard who can’t even pass his first levels after several years of trying. Expelled from the Unseen University of Wizards, Rincewind is at loose ends and he happens across Discworld’s first Tourist, Two Flower, who is wonderfully played by Sean Astin. Two Flower is in Ankh-Morpork to see the sights, naively placing himself in dangerous situations and Rincewind is obliged to help him survive.
After a devastating fire, Two Flower and Rincewind flee, setting off to explore potential Tourist Destinations. What follows is an adventure that highlights many of the wonderfully odd things on the Discworld. Two Flower stumbles rather innocently into trouble and is nonplussed about the chances of escaping unscathed. In character, he is amusingly optimistic and marvelously self-referential, “Losing my Luggage is part of being a Tourist.” You will like Two Flower’s luggage. Rincewind, the less courageous of the two, is ever at the edge of panic and despair, constantly placed by Two Flower into near-death experiences. And speaking of death, Death is a character (voiced by Christopher Lee) in The Color of Magic. And he as exasperated by Two Flower and Rincewind’s antics as Rincewind is, “I think I’ve just had another Near-Rincewind Experience.” Death shows up and Rincewind just won’t die.
Death: Your lifetime is up, Rincewind. I can’t hang around all day.
Rincewind: I can. What have you done with the tourist?
Death: Nothing. He was lured by the attraction of the Wyrmberg.
Rincewind: So at least the Patrician won’t be sending out his men to kill me just yet then?
Death: There is a distinct possibility that he may not need to.
Rincewind: What are you grinning at?
Death: Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. Now, would you be so kind as to let go? It won’t hurt.
Rincewind: Being torn to pieces by wolves won’t hurt?
Death: It would be over very quickly. And of course, they are an endangered species.
As in Hogfather there are story lines running parallel one another, but in The Color of Magic the two main lines are earlier and more evidently linked. Rincewind’s expulsion from the Unseen University was amidst a power struggle. The climbing of the ladder to the top meant positions had to be vacated, necessarily by means of murder. Tim Curry plays Trymon who has his eye on the top position of Archchancellor. The wit along this vein of the story is dark humor and deliciously carried off. It is no distraction to a central course which involves getting Rincewind back.
A third line, involving astronomers and “astrozoologists” seem to bookend the movie and one must wait to the end to draw that one together and into the greater story. It is as an Astrozoologist that Pratchett has a cameo. The brilliant start to the film involves the astronomers and astrozoologists is that shoot off over the edge of Discworld to have a closer look at the turtle on which the four elephants who in turn carry the Discworld on their backs. (We had wondered at this possibility when watching Hogfather.)
The special effects are put to greater use in Jean’s The Color of Magic and the transitions are more fluid, otherwise the film feels similar to Jean’s earlier effort, Hogfather. The sets and costumes are rich. The vision is carried off beautifully. The adaptation to the books is fairly close, to my understanding, but I’ve yet to read any of Pratchett’s Discworld series.
Knowing that this is two books helps. The film felt long to me**–was any adventure/incident excluded from the book? The Color of Magic felt shorter than Hogfather (though both are ~185 minutes) but I don’t think it would be bad to spread it out over the course of two days. A lighter hand was taken with any philosophical musing, but the pacing is as patient as the previous–a warning to those with attention span issues, or exhaustion. For everyone else, the humor will be enough. The acting across the board is good and there are some fantastic characters. Cohen the Barbarian (David Bradley) is hilarious.
It goes without saying that if you enjoyed Hogfather you will enjoy The Color of Magic. However, even if you didn’t care for Hogfather, you will still likely enjoy The Color of Magic. Fans of The Princess Bride will have a good chance with this one. And again, fans of British humor, and medieval/magical settings.
Director/Screenplay: Vadim Jean.
Out of the United Kingdom.
First broadcast on Sky One (Official Website).
185 minutes, 2 parts.
*Thank you Netflix Streaming.
**the husband and daughter did not seem bothered by the length. N was completely absorbed.