Newest Review: ... of the colour has been drained from Pratchett's original tale. One of the funniest things about the books is the constant asides and obse... more
Ho! Ho! Ho! or No! No! No!?
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Mildly amusing and better cast
Disadvantages: Far too long, some poor casting decisions
For a start, the casting is better (although still a long way from perfect) and the selection of book wiser. The Hogfather is one of Pratchett's best Discworld titles from that golden period in the late 90s when he was on a real roll. It's also one of the more accessible Discworld books (a parody on Christmas) and requires viewers to have no prior knowledge of Pratchett's world. As such, it holds a wider appeal.
The plot sees the Hogfather disappear on Hogswatch night (the Discworld Christmas). In order to ensure that children continue to believe in him (so that he does not die), Death decides to take over his rounds. Meanwhile, a deadly and unbalanced assassin, Mr Teatime, is seeking to make sure the Hogfather dies and Hogswatch does not happen.
As with so many Pratchett books, the plot doesn't actually make a huge amount of sense and you will spend quite a bit of time scratching your head with only the most general idea of what is happening. In the book this was not such a serious issue, as Pratchett's musings on all sorts of topics made for a frequently amusing book, full of delightful observations and humorous diversions. Sadly, the story is slightly different with this TV adaptation.
Inevitably, in order to fit the plot of the book into an audience-friendly three hour format (2 episodes of 90 minutes each), a lot of the colour has been drained from Pratchett's original tale. One of the funniest things about the books is the constant asides and observations about human nature. These often have little to do with the actual plot, but are amongst the funniest sections. Here, all such meanderings have been lost. The need to keep the episode down to a reasonable running time means that The Hogfather simply concentrates on the plot and some of the book's funniest sections are missing.
Sadly, this means that a lot of the richness and much of the humour has also gone Read The Hogfather and you will frequently find yourself laughing out loud; watch The Hogfather and you will occasionally smile. The humour is more sporadic and less funny, a watered down version of its written word self. If this was your first experience of Pratchett, you'd probably find it passable enough, but wonder what on earth all the fuss was about.
Sadly, even though a lot of the book's asides have been excised, The Hogfather still feels a rather pedestrian and drawn-out affair. Perhaps this is because I'm already very familiar with the plot of the book and so the story contained no surprises for me. It does feel very slow-paced, however, and there were times when I wished that they would just get on with it! 3 hours sometimes feels like a very long time.
It's also fair to say that the film makers' ideas are a lot bigger than their budget. Pratchett's Discworld books display a lot of imagination and, without the big budget of a Hollywood movie, it was always going to be difficult to capture that sense of awe and wonder with the medium sized budget of a UK TV show.
In fairness, they do their best with what they have got and make a pretty good stab at translating Pratchett's world from page to screen. The shots of the Discworld itself are impressive, whilst the Tower of Arts in Ankh-Morpork (and Ankh Morpork itself) are well constructed. Elsewhere, things are somewhat dodgier. The shots of Death (as the Hogfather) or Binky (Death's horse) flying over Ankh-Morpork are clearly either composite shots filmed against green screen or models and don't look terribly impressive. Similarly, where scaling down of characters takes place (to make one character appear very big; another small), things look rough indeed. The Verruca Gnome, for example, would not look out of place in an old Ray Harryhausen effects film circa 1975. The sad truth is that to do justice to Pratchett's creations, the Discworld books either need to be a mega Hollywood film or an animated tale, where imagination costs a little less! British TV is just never going to be able to do Discworld justice.
Thankfully, the casting of the characters (an essential part of any Pratchett book) is a lot better than in The Colour of Magic demonstrating a much better understanding of Pratchett's world. Ian Richardson makes a far better job as the voice of Death than Christopher Lee managed in the Colour of Magic, although he still doesn't quite capture the true essence of the character. David Jason is strangely miscast as Death's assistant Albert (although he is better here than in the Colour of Magic), not because he's not a good actor; more because he is the wrong actor for the role. In the books, Albert is a grumpy, cantankerous old man with a deeply cynical perspective which offsets Death's strangely naive and optimistic view of life. Of course, you can't have David Jason being that sort of person, so instead, Albert becomes a lot lighter, laughing frequently (and never cynically). Whilst there are odd attempts to pretend Albert is grumpy (mainly by occasionally getting him to say "buggar"), it's not consistent and means that the crucial dynamic between Death and Albert is sadly missing.
Michelle Dockery is adequate (if slightly bland) as Death's Granddaughter, Susan, whilst Joss Ackland turns in a good performance as Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, capturing his loud, larger-than-life shouty personality well (although personally I think that Brian Blessed was born to play the role!).
It's Marc Warren as unhinged assassin Mr Teatime who steals the show, however. Warren is one of the few actors in this who appears to have read and understood the tone of the book and his performance is absolutely spot-on. He is charming and deadly in equal measure, capturing the way in which Mr Teatime's skewed view of the world allows him to think, say and do things which would never occur to any normal human being. Speaking with a soft, American accent, Warren plays the role to perfection. Indeed, so convincing is his performance that it took me most of the way through the first episode before I realised it even WAS him (despite the fact I knew he was in it) - always the mark of a good performance!
On the plus side, you can pick this up second hand for around £2 used or £5 new, so it's not going to break the bank. Personally, I'd advise you to pick it up as cheap as you can. Although it's not as disappointing as the following year's adaptation of The Colour of Magic, it's still very much a one-watch wonder and not one of those Christmassy tales that you'll put on every year.
Director: Jean Vadim
Running time: approx. 185 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: Better than The Colour of Magic... but only just