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The Color of Magic: Putting the WTF back into fantasy

The slightly baffling book made into a slightly baffling movie!

I’ve reviewed a few Terry Pratchett books here on Faceplant, what because of how I find his books to be entertaining, and about how I am always straight up desperate for stuff to review on this humble website.  The Color of Magic was actually the very first Discworld novel Pratchett ever wrote.  But never mind that now.  Turns out there was a two-part made-for-TV movie that was released a while back, which I stumbled across on Netflicks.  I’ve never read The Color of Magic.  I understand that I am doing it backwards by watching the film adaptation first but ehhh, we’re just going to roll with this.

It turns out Pratchett’s first foray into Discworld was much more sci-fi oriented than fantasy, which is okay.  There’s still a liberal helping of wizards, barbarians and magic thrown in there too.

So.  The plot.  Just…  stay with me here.  Pratchett’s Discworld is a very special place.  It’s a flat, circular piece of land that is held up in the sky by four elephants who are diligently holding the disc aloft in the heavens.  The elephants are being born aloft through the sky by standing on the back of a giant turtle, which is soaring through the heavens for some inscrutable reason.

This isn’t, as you might think, a theory that has been put forward in the sometimes technologically challenged Discworld.  A team of zoologists/astronomers who live at the very edge of the disc have verified this by lowering some scientists down over the edge so they can see it firsthand.  They weren’t able to find out what gender the turtle is, but let’s be honest.  Could you look at a turtle and positively confirm that it’s male or female?  Yeah, thought not.

Twoflower is a huge nerd.

Anyway, the film then switches to good ol’ Ankh Morpork, just in time to watch as the local wizard’s school expels Rincewind from the premises for being, quite honestly, the most terrible wizard.  Rincewind has never passed any wizarding tests.  Not a single one.

Thinking life is basically over (and really, what do you do after 40 years of being a failure as a student?) Rincewind prepares to off himself.  He’s stopped at the last-minute when he catches sight of a man in a bright floral print shirt and a seemingly bottomless and sentient chest of gold.  Turns out the man is the first tourist of Discworld by the name of Twoflower.  And he is distressingly unaware that flashing money around in Ankh Morpork is most definitely gonna get you murdered.

In short order, Rincewind convinces Twoflower that 1) he is a great wizard, 2) that he can show him all of the most amazing sights to be seen in Discworld, and 3) that he will most assuredly not allow him to get stabbed, even a little.  Off the two go into the world to see the sights, Twoflower armed with his infinite innocence and Rincewind armed with crippling fear about getting murdered, or Twoflower getting murdered, because then the patrician will murder him for making the city look bad.

Oh and then there’s some magic too.  Turns out there’s a big scary book that doesn’t like Rincewind being too far away.  And then there’s also a star that keeps getting closer and some spaceships?  I dunno, just either read it or watch it for yourself.

What I liked about the film adaptation:  It’s interesting to see someone else’s interpretation of Discworld.  The book doesn’t entirely take place in Ankh Morpork, and certain elements are definitely missing, but its like seeing the city for the first time from another angle.  Still, Ankh Morpork is just a shell of what it’ll become.  Dwarves are the only bizarre race walking the streets, and some popular characters are notably absent.  I think at this point, Sam Vimes is little more than a peon in the city watch, Moist von Lipwig probably hasn’t even been born, and William DeWorde is probably still bumming around for stray dollars instead of writing the news.  It’s humble beginnings for a town that definitely has some growing ahead of it.

Also, it helps to have read some of the later books.  The city Patrician, who is not referred to by name in the film, is most likely Vetinari, and the small dog he’s clutching to his chest can only be the infamous Wuffles.  At this point Vetinari hasn’t quite got the hang of that chilly and somewhat jovial style of ruling that keeps all of the Discworld main characters on their toes, choosing instead to intimidate Rincewind with outright threats.

The plot…  gets weird, and it gets weird fast.  This is the first Discworld story that didn’t actually feel like a Discworld story, but again, the world has had a couple of decades to grow.

The downside?  The acting.  Particularly Sean Astin, who played Twoflower.  While Astin did come across as clueless, he didn’t in fact come across as someone who wasn’t trying to overact lines he memorized just before filming.  David Jason, who played Rincewind, was…  passable, I guess.  But by the end of the film I did kind of want to strangle him.  Not sure why.

Oh yeah.  Tim Curry is in this too as the murder happy, power grabbing wizard in the academy.  He does an alright job, probably thanks to his decades long career as being the go to guy for goatee villainy.

Anyway, I’d recommend the Color of Magic to anyone out there who is a Pratchett fan, but if you’re just coming into the series the first time, picking up one of the later books may be better than hopping right into the movie.

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3 Responses

  1. What happened to the U?

    And I thought I read this book, but I guess I didn’t. Another Discworld novel to add to my list!

    • That’s a very good question! When I found it on Netflicks, it was very definitely the Color of Magic, which I remember thinking “oh man just what is even HAPPENING to all of the Us? Where have they gone?” But apparently, the official two part miniseries poster very definitely says colour, doesn’t it? Which I… *cough* totally noticed before I posted this article.
      I think I’m going to go with the American answer on this one. Why do we gotta be throwing Us around willy nilly? We’re not savages. How would you like it if you were a vowel, standing around and minding your own business and chilling with your homies T and V, and then some dude with a British accent just picks you up and starts throwing you at like… boxes of colo(u)red pencils.
      Plus, when its spelled colour, I’m always trying to pronounce it like “col-LEW-er,” which it totally is probably entirely maybe incorrect.

  2. […] The Color of Magic: Putting the WTF back into fantasy (faceplantreview.wordpress.com) […]

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