Blightyvision: “The Colour of Magic”

Directed and adapted by Vadim Jean
Mucked about by Terry Pratchett
Starring Sean Astin, Tim Curry, and Jeremy Irons

I suppose Sky One realized they had something rather good when they aired “Hogfather” during the 2006 holidays to the delight of British viewers (and those abroad who found other ways of getting their fix).  Between then and their 2010 release of last week’s reviewed material was “The Colour of Magic,” a TV adaptation of the first two books of the Discworld series (being the title namesake and The Light Fantastic).

Like the other specials — and, indeed, like the books themselves — the setting is approached with a show-don’t-tell mindset.  There is never any true setup for what the Discworld is and how it functions.  You get a feel for it over time.  And in this one, you are introduced rather forcefully to the wizards at the Unseen Academy.

Our hero is a failed “wizzard” (if his hat is to be believed) named Rincewind, played by David Jason — who has an impressive CV, but let’s not lie, you’ll know him best as the voice of Danger Mouse.  After being kicked out of the Academy he finds himself in the company of Twoflower (Sean Astin in an eerily Samwise-esque role), the Disc’s first tourist.  Ordered by Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician (here first played by Jeremy Irons) to keep an eye on Twoflower, Rincewind finds himself in the midst of far more misadventures than he’s comfortable with.

Meanwhile, back at the Academy, the wizard Trymon (Tim Curry as himself) is killing his way to the top for fun and profit, trying as he goes to harness the power of the restless spellbook known as the Octavo.  Unfortunately, this cannot be done until one spell missing from it is retrieved — and that spell is in Rincewind’s head.  And just to add a little more excitement to the story, Great A’Tuin — the giant turtle on whose shell stand four elephants who in turn support the Discworld — is flying closer and closer to the sun for reasons that only it knows.

The major difference between “The Colour of Magic” and the two other specials is, in fact, the same as the difference between the original books and the ones to follow: that is, you can tell it’s the first book.  There’s nothing wrong with this, really; everything has to start somewhere.  But the characters have yet to develop into what the fans know, and the storytelling feels far more spread out by way of secondary and tertiary characters than Pratchett’s later offerings.  It doesn’t make the story unfollowable, and Vadim Jean attempting to rein it all in with hindsight would have resulted in something of a train wreck. Nonetheless there is a definite divide stylistically that might confuse someone only familiar with the TV adaptations — thus I would actually recommend watching this one prior to “Hogfather” if it comes to that.

While Rincewind would technically be considered our protagonist, I suppose, Astin and Curry steal the show in their own corners of the story.  The former borders, as mentioned before, on an almost Sam-esque performance, which is humorously evocative more than anything else.  Curry as Evil Curry does an excellent job as Trymon, and occasionally you get a nice trace of the classic Frank-N-Furter laugh.  That is, the casting is in some ways referential and self-aware, but never in such a way that you’re distracted from the goings-on in front of you.

As mentioned, I’d advise anyone looking to watch all three of the adaptations released so far to watch this one first, despite it being made second.  It flows a bit better without losing anything either way.  Whichever way you choose to watch it, this isn’t one you can ever let your mind wander from; it moves at a fair pace, and if you blink, you’re likely to miss whole character appearances — such as David Bradley (Argus Filch in the Harry Potter flicks and other such disturbing old men) as Cohen the Barbarian, a rare upbeat and un-creepy role in his repertoire.  But if you’re good for a nice sit-down of an evening with no distractions, you’re good to go.

“The Colour of Magic” is available on DVD from Amazon. Note, though: if you watch it, at the end of the first episode you are obligated to make a “double rimbow all the way around the Disc” joke.  Just saying.

One Response

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  1. Written by Arkonbey
    on 2010-09-23 at 20:37

    I was exceptionally disappointed with this offering. I found it rather cheesy that they decided to make Twoflower a caucasian rather than, as he was in the books, Asian. If Twoflower is not Asian, that may mean they’ll never do “Interesting Times”. Perhaps, they should have gotten Jackie Chan, now that would have been awesome. He’s got real comic chops when he’s directed well.

    Along that line, I thought the ‘pictograms’ were idiotic. The books more or less describe them as Chinese/Japanese-style brush-stroke characters, not poorly drawn emoticons.

    So, the score is:

    Hogfather = awesome
    Colour of Magic = awful
    Going Postal = potentially awesome (as long as they don’t get all PC on Adora Belle’s nasty habit)

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