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Enjoyable entertainment - how enjoyable probably depends on if you're already read the books
on 11 April 2009
/This review contains no plot-spoilers/ Like all fantasy and science-fiction films based on novels, you're probably going to be very disappointed if you've already read the books. And that goes doubly so for classic children's books. And triply so if the movie is a little too far towards being B-grade and low-budget. I hadn't heard of the books, and wasn't even sure if this was meant to be a children's movie or how much had been spent making it (I'll watch any budget sci-fi/fantasy movie that seems to have had some care in the making) - so this was an enjoyable cinematic experience for me, and I'd watch it again. Technically this British-made film is very workmanlike and polished - and especially so in the costume design, superb set design and the sustained ambience. The lighting might have been a lot more dynamic. The early-appearing supporting British character-actors such as Heathcote Williams and the grandmother set an excellent tone for the movie, and the supporting cast all convince. For most 10 to 13 year olds, this will be a highly enjoyable and engaging fantasy adventure, one they can watch together with adults without the adults getting bored. I'm not sure about 7-9 year olds getting bored, though. Other reviews have said the first half is slow, but I didn't notice that and liked the relatively intelligent and atmospheric build-up. The first-half may well be too slow, though, for younger and/or non-bookish kids - especially if they expect a non-stop 90 minute all-action roller-coaster-ride from every movie they see. We could have had a little more quirky character depth from the two main characters, perhaps by adding some voiceover "I remember..." moments near the start and more facial expressiveness - but thankfully the studio writers decided not to inject any of the oh-so-fashionable angst and horror that seems to be standard for "young adult" fare these days. The film rather reminded me of a videogame at times, and I would love to play it as such. It has something of the puzzle-adventure games Myst and Riven about it, but in the setting of Fallout 3. Yet the lacklustre box-office performance of the film in the U.S.A, and the similarity to the existing game Fallout 3, will inevitably mean that there'll be no game made of it now. Having now seen the film, I would suggest that an intelligent bookish 13 or 14 year-old reader of the books might love to read Neil Stephenson's new novel "Anathem" which has a similar setting and protagonist, although skipping some of the more philosophical bits. To conclude - a robustly well-made and well-acted entertainment, which if not perfect still manages to be far more engaging and memorable than the dismal "Voyage to the Center of the Earth" which is flagged on the DVD cover.