Thursday, March 29, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, metaphysical*

COLOR OF MAGIC, a two-part telefilm adaptation of two of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, has received some slags for its deviations from the source material.  I've never read anything by Pratchett, but I liked this reasonably well.  My biggest complaint is that it's like a lot of British comedy-fantasy: COLOR fills a lot of time noodling around with parodies of "straight" tropes of science fiction and fantasy, giving the whole film an extremely episodic flavor.

The best summation for COLOR may be that it's the old story of the cynical native faced with the ebullient tourist.  Rincewind (David Jason) is an incompetent old wizard who at film's beginning is tossed out of Unseen University because he's been with them for forty years without getting any better.  Through assorted circumstances Rincewind becomes hooked up with an "alien" who wants to see the sights of Discworld.  Twoflower (Sean Astin) is a fellow who dresses something like an Earthman, but apparently hails from a place where the locals have recourse to such miracles as ambulatory luggage that follows you around during your tours.  Twoflower is also very generous with his money, which decides the impecunious wizard to become the alien's guide.  However, Rincewind is a coward who has no intention of guiding Twoflower near any of the perilous sights the tourist wishes to view.  Fortunately for him, though he's incompetent at magic he does possess a degree of invulernability to harm, which works out well since Twoflower continually leads his guide into greater and greater danger from dragons, a sacrificial cult, and a barbarian swordswoman.

At the same time, two other plotlines involve (a) a wizard named Trymon (Tim Curry) who wishes to become head of the University but can only do so by tapping the special power Rincewind possesses, and (b) a group of seers who want to learn the gender of the giant turtle on whose back Discworld resides.  Despite the episodic quality of the long and winding narrative, these additional plotlines do come together reasonably well, though again, I cannot vouch for their fidelity to the novels.

The glue that holds the episodes together is the reluctant alliance of Rincewind and Twoflower.  Though only at the conclusion does Rincewind evince some affection for the tourist-- which Twoflower reciprocates-- it's clear that the bitter old wizard stays with the tourist because he envies his ability to see the world through new eyes.  Admittedly, Rincewind does remark that Twoflower would rather have a picture of something incredible (as with a great-looking sequence of new world-turtles being spawned in outer space) rather than just looking at it.  But it's clear that the essence of the comedy lies in their mismatched pairing.

Sets and effects look expensive for a TV-movie, and the acting's usually good, though some of the more minor characters (like the barbarian girl Herrena) have too little time to develop their characters in the film, whatever they may have signified in the novels.  Many of the lines are quotably cute if not particularly deep, so I'll wrap up with Rincewind's characterization of Twoflower:

"Let's just say that if complete and utter chaos was lightning, he'd be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting 'All gods are bastards'."

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