. . . and our little life is rounded with a sleep." This snippet of Prospero's from Shakespeare's The Tempest, was beautifully ad libbed by Humphrey Bogart during the filming of The Maltese Falcon. It pretty much sums up the experience I took out of reading Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures. Life in Holy Wood, like life on Prospero's island is one where magical events occur encouraged by a host of spirits. Since these magical events unfold in that piece of the universe known as Discworld, they unfold with wit, humor, and more than a bit of thought.
As the title suggests, Moving Pictures is Pratchett's take on Hollywood. In a manner similar to his approach to Men at Arms, The Truth, and Going Postal, Pratchett takes the development of the motion picture industry and through the literary equivalent of time-lapse photography compresses it so that the reader experiences in a brief time span that which occurred over decades on our slower-moving planet. The result is hilariously funny and made me shake my head and murmur, how did we let this nonsense happen.
CAST OF CHARACTERS: As a click trailer might say: Introducing Victor and Ginger (think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) as the leading man and lady of this epic. Also new to Discworld is Thomas Silverfish (think Samuel Goldwyn of MGM fame), the first big producer on Discworld. As in Casablanca, Pratchett has also rounded up the usual suspects. Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler (can't think of a character on earth that remotely resembles Dibbler!) and Gaspode (think Oscar Levant as played by a stray dog) are featured prominently and hilariously. This is a big step up for these two contract players in the Discworld series! Rounding out the featured players is that zany group of performers known as the wizards, led by their fearless librarian (think the Keystone Kops meets Planet of the Apes). And, as they say, a cast of thousands, including assorted trolls, an overly obsequious dog known as Laddie (think Lassie) and other delightful diverse denizens of Discworld.
THE PLOT: The plot is simple. It is about the power of dreams in a world, as Dibbler might say, "gone mad". Dreams, particularly the dreams of Ginger, play a critical role in the book. A group of alchemists have invented movies or clicks as they come to be known on Discworld. Fearing that such magic might anger the wizards of Unseen University the alchemists move out of Ankh-Morpork to a strange and wondrous place called Holy Wood. In what seems like only days, clicks become the next big thing. People from around Discworld come to Holy Wood for no apparent reason other than a strange compulsion. Perhaps mysterious forces are at work? The excitement level gradually builds, the outlines of an evil, dark plot by the spirit world reveals itself as in a dream, until all heck breaks loose. Victor strives valiantly to save the universe with the wizards following close behind in a manner reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. The climactic fight scene is both dramatic and hilariously funny. Of course, the fun in any Pratchett novel is not the ending but the journey. Hollywood references abound. It is always fun trying to spot some, even those which Pratchett may never have intended. Dibbler's hilarious product placements and his `invention' of subliminal advertising were worth the price of admission.
Some have suggested that Moving Pictures is not as `good' as his other Discworld books. There is an inference, perhaps, that it does not address profound issues relating to life, the universe and everything as was the case in Mort, Small Gods, or Thief of Time. For me, however, the profusion of cultural gods (from Valentino to Pacino) created by Hollywood and its enormous impact on popular culture throughout the world seems just as worthy of the typical Pratchett treatment as small gods in the form of a turtle. I also have to add that it was a pleasure seeing both Gaspode and Dibbler in more prominent roles.
All in all, as I finished Discworld I kept coming back to Bogart looking wistfully at the worthless Maltese Falcon that so many people had died in pursuit of their dreams. Perhaps for his next click, Dibbler can have Victor close by reminding the audience that, like Prospero:
Our revels now are ended: these our actors
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yes, and all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a wrack behind: We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Th-th-th-that's all folks!!!