Ten Comments, Two Addenda and a Summary
So, I finally had an opportunity to watch this (binged on the whole thing last night). A few comments:
1. The kids: loved them. The only people in the whole production who were visibly in it for the fun of the thing, not because it was a job. Sam Taylor Buck was fabulous as Adam, but I almost loved his friends even more.
2. Obviously a huge star vehicle for Michael Sheen and David Tennant, and both of them used it to the max. Tennant wins in the coolness department, but then, bad boys who aren’t really bad always do. As does tall, dark and handsome. (As does, for the same reasons, Crowley in the book.)
3. God bless Miranda Richardson. And Jack Whitehall and Michael McKean — but chiefly, Miranda Richardson. Besides the kids, the trio that really grounded the whole thing.
4. Anathema as a mllennial Californian with a Latina mother — why, oh why??? She’s the direct descendant of a 17th century rural English witch, for crying out loud …
5. Footnotes from the mouth of God — and not the Metatron, either, but God (Frances McDormand) herself? Please. I mean, I do love Terry Pratchett’s footnotes, but jeez.
6. Adam and Eve: PC casting rather than inspired.
7. The Four Horsemen: More PC casting, but I loved the looks.
8. The (arch)angels and demons (except for Hastur): More PC casting. (What is one of the hallmarks of PC casting? It goes to supporting and [relatively] minor characters who make up the background and “feel” of the production, rather than the starring roles.)
9. Derek Jacobi as the Metatron: What a letdown. No dice on Nicholas Briggs in the BBC audio production (nor, for that matter, on Alan Rickman in Dogma, but let’s not even go there). The Metatron is many things, but decidedly not an elderly gentleman dragged out of semi-retirement. Being a huge fan of Jacobi’s, it pains me to say this, but there we are.
10. The Shakespeare scene was inspired. Particularly so, the allusions to Tennant’s previous role as Hamlet and to the Bard’s mastery at appropriating source material from brains other than his own. Loved seeing the actual [reconstructed] Globe Theatre as the setting, too.
11. Addendum 1: The nurses and the switching scenes were fun. Also, good old-fashioned stop-motion technology put to great effect in the winking exchange.
12. Addendum 2: Benedict Cumberbatch was wasted as Satan’s voice.
Overall: Gaahhh, this is slick. Make no mistake, I instantly downloaded the whole thing so as to be able to watch it again (and again), for Tennant and Sheen alone. And it’s enormous fun. But it has a glossy, sleek, high tech surface that buries much of the rough, original force of the book under it; never mind that the essential plot remains unchanged and many of the lines are taken straight from the novel: It’s the visuals that get in the way. And while in both the book and the BBC audio adaptation, for all the humor and downright slapstick comedy, there is a real sense of dread and impending doom towards the end, I never once had that feeling while watching this screen adaptation — even the end left me as cold as just about every blockbuster disaster movie produced ever since the early 2000s (which is why I don’t bother watching them). I’m not sure less would have been more there — we’re literally talking about the end of the world, after all — but here, too, all I saw was CGI and other high tech effects being showcased for themselves, not in aid of the story.
This adaptation has all the makings of an instant classic, and there is much to love about it. And most of its audience will probably not even think about, let alone be bothered by the things that are bothering me. And I enjoyed it enough to want to watch it again, too, probably repeatedly. And perhaps this is just the sort of production we have to expect, coming out of Hollywood, in this day and age. Still — for however much I did enjoy it, for me it’s just a tad short of what it could and probably should have been.
P.S. My review of the book and the BBC full cast audio adaptation is HERE.