Movie Review: The Colour of Magic

Certificate PG, 184 minutes

Directory: Vadim Jean

Stars: David Jason, Sean Astin, Tim Curry

The Colour of Magic is based on the fantasy novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett (who has a brief cameo at the end of the film). This is a made for television movie, hence the length, and is usually shown as two episodes in a miniseries. It is the second live action adaptation of a Discworld novel. It opens with the astronomers and astrozoologists of Krull, a kingdom at the very edge of the Disc, discovering a slight problem with their latest craft sent to try and determine the sex of the turtle on which the Disc is carried through space, Great A’Tuin.

The Colour of MagicTwoflower (Sean Astin), the Discworld’s first tourist, has just arrived in Ankh-Morpork from the Counterweight Continent. Twoflower is more than a little naive, and has no idea just how much the gold he has brought is actually worth in the city The gold, and his other belongings, are kept in the Luggage (Richard da Costa), a large trunk made from sapient pearwood (and apparently more valuable than the gold it contains) which has many little legs and the Disc’s most homicidal travel accessory (it has a nasty habit of eating people).

At the Unseen University, Trymon (Tim Curry), is plotting to become Archchancellor by killing off his competition, including the current Archchancellor, Galdar Weatherwax (James Cosmo). Before Mustrum Ridcully became Archchancellor, being a wizard at the university was a much more dangerous affair. Rincewind (David Jason), an inept wizard (or “Wizzard” as it says on his pointy hat) has just been kicked out of the university (he appears to be the oldest student there by some margin), and has one of the eight great spells from the magical book called the Octavo living inside his head. He plans to end it all at the docks by throwing himself into the River Ankh, but this fails, and he bumps into Twoflower, and ends up becoming his guide (not by his own choice), first in Ankh-Morpork, with fairly disastrous results involving fire insurance, and later across other parts of the Disc, as Twoflower manages to unintentionally spread chaos in his wake. Rincewind is pursued by Death (Christopher Lee), as he keeps managing to survive situations in which he was supposed to have died.

The Colour of Magic is the first Discworld book, and was in many ways rather different to most of the later ones. There were concepts that never really appeared again, such as the colour octarine and the disquieting nature of the number 8 (the last omitted completely from the film). It was different even to the next in the series, being essentially a collection of several different stories that all happened to feature Rincewind and Twoflower. It had some more traditional fantasy elements than later novels, and tended to satirise existing fantasy works, such as with Cohen the Barbarian (David Bradley), based on Conan the Barbarian, who is a lifetime in his own legend. By far the biggest difference, though, is that this is not based solely on The Colour of Magic, which is rather fortunate, as that novel had what was almost the definition of a cliff-hanger ending. Instead, the film is based on the first two Discworld novels. It is usually shown in two parts, with part one being The Colour of Magic and part two is The Light Fantastic, the sequel and the second Discworld novel.

At the beginning of the Discworld series, there was less continuity of characters and even those that consistently appeared, namely Death and the Patrician (Jeremy Irons), changed in personality and character as the series progressed. Not every story from the original books made it into this adaptation, for example, there are more than a few references to the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth, which is never actually visited, but which was in the first novel, and there are missing characters too. The story involving the other wizards, especially Trymon, has also been expanded to create continuity across what would have been two books. Otherwise, this would still have been a collection of largely separate stories happening to feature two of the same characters (and a host of bit parts).

If the adaptation has any problems, it’s its length (although there would appear to be two different versions with vastly different lengths; a UK version of 184 minutes, and a US one of only 137, with the longer version being the one watched). This is, unfortunately, unavoidable, because it has been made from two books, and is still substantially shorter than it would have been had everything in the two books been included. Possibly each book could have been made into a separate adaptation, but this could have caused problems given the ending of the first book – as mentioned, almost a literal cliff-hanger ending. Although David Jason appears again, his character in this story is not the same as the one he played in Hogfather, and his role is bigger, as he plays one of the two main characters.

Tim Curry’s Trymon is suitably slimy, with an almost constant smile as he plots his way through the upper echelons of Unseen University, eliminating those wizards who stand in his way, although the Archchancellor himself proves to be more troublesome. David Jason and Sean Astin work well together as Rincewind and Twoflower, and the film looks good, with plenty of impressive magical effects to see.

This was always going to be a difficult adaptation to make, simply because of how different the first novel was to the majority of the rest, in many different ways. There were lots of characters who only appeared for a short time, before disappearing again. Changes were always going to have to be made in order to get a decent film out of it, but the end result is successful enough, and should appeal to most fans. Others may not enjoy it as much, as the story, for the reasons mentioned earlier, does tend to be a little fragmentary. Still, The Colour of Magic is an enjoyable fantasy story from one of the most popular fantasy series of all time, never mind humorous fantasy.

 

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