Hogfather the movie. A mixed experience

posted in: Life and things, On writing, Reviews | 4

I’ve finally had a chance to watch ‘Hogfather’ the movie – based on Terry Pratchett’s book. After I’d watched the first episode (the second will be on Saturday) my other half said “I didn’t hear much laughter.” So true. I’ve had some time to think about what I’d seen and how it affected me. I also went back and re-read the book.

I have to say I don’t think the book translated well to the screen. It’s just too complex and it’s actually a rather dark tale. Mister Teatime (pronounced ‘Te-ah-tim-eh’) is an evil nutcase, superbly played, I must say, by Marc Warren in the film. Teatime isn’t somebody like the fearsome Mrs Bucket (Boo-kay). A baby-faced young man whose only outward appearance of madness is his weird eyes, he murders for amusement, kills people for whom he has no further use. Lord Downey, head of the Assassin’s Guild, charges Teatime with the task of inhuming the Hogfather, a commission he has received from the shadowy ‘auditors’.

Sure, there are some genuinely funny parts to the book. Pratchett ‘gets’ kids and the whole sitting on Santa’s knee stuff, and the little ‘s’ which is a shy kid’s ‘yes’. The notion of a real, raw wood Santa sledge drawn by four wild boars replacing the curly sleigh and the pink papier-mâché pigs in the department store’s Santa grotto is hilarious. The kids LOVE the boars, which pee on the floor, generally stink and scare the bejaysus out of management. And the notion of Death, a seven-foot skeleton with a scythe, taking over the Hogfather role is mind-boggling. Only TP could have come up with that. But while there’s plenty of amusing by-play on the sides (the death of rats, the raven, the Cheerful Fairy, the oh-god of hangovers, the wizards, Ponder Stibbons and HEX etc etc at its heart, ‘Hogfather’ is a serious story with an interesting message. You might say it examines the real meaning of … not so much Christmas, but the ceremonies of the winter solstice. The more recent religions have tacked their message onto a primeval fear, that the sun will not return. In fact, that fear is stated – if the Hogfather is not found, the sun will not rise tomorrow.

This isn’t the only deep-seated belief Pratchett uses in this book. The Tooth Fairy looms large in the plot. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the concept of giving a child money for a tooth may very well stem from the fact that if the wrong people collect the teeth, the child could be in jeopardy. The analogy is to hair and nail clippings, which are used in spells to control people. In fact, the whole book is about fear and belief.

I can quite believe people who had not read the book would find it very difficult to follow the thread of the movie. Even I had to work at it, and I’ve read the book several times. I think perhaps the people who made ‘Going Postal’, the more recent transfer of a Pratchett novel to the screen, learnt a few lessons. ‘Going Postal’ deviates from the book in several ways, simplifying the plot for a TV audience. I can’t help but feel that the resulting screenplay lost rather a lot in translation but it was probably wise.

Which all goes to show why I’d rather read a book. You can uncover so many more layers.

4 Responses

  1. Bill Kirton

    Couldn’t agree more (yet again) Greta. I at last found time to finish Snuff and, apart from it having the usual lovely surprise gags which you never see coming, the terrific characters who, even though they’re so familiar to Pratchett fans, still reveal depths, it has those wee paragraphs of really insightful observations that he never leans on too heavily but which show how acutely he perceives and conveys what’s happening not just in Discworld but in our own. I’m not sure I want to see the movies.

  2. Steven J Pemberton

    Agreed – it was an odd choice for the first live action adaptation, not least because it’s a sequel (even though Pratchett doesn’t really do sequels). It evidently was successful enough for the TV station to justify making The Colour of Magic (which is where they should really have started).

    • Greta van der Rol

      I suppose they thought it would be a good ‘Christmas’ film. Not. I did enjoy the movie – and Going Postal as well. I’ll look forward to ‘The Colour of Magic’. It certainly isn’t Sir T’s best effort but it sends up all sorts of icons. Of course, they’d HAVE to make ‘The Light Fantastic’. It really was 1 book, after all.

  3. David Barron

    I think a lot of Pratchett’s dialogue and ‘philosophy’ gets lost in TV form, but the essential plot worked. I did prefer Going Postal’s adaptation to this one, because it was a more ‘visual’ (towers & tech) story anyways.

    Still…Mister Teatime. (shudder)

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