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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Terry Pratchett's Discworld Collection
Terry Pratchett's Discworld Collection
Acorn Media // Unrated // August 26, 2008
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted August 19, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Geometry teachers everywhere love to illustrate the difference between points, lines, and planes by having their kids read "Flatland," Edward Abbott's 19th century social parody which nonetheless imparted useful visualizations with regard to the difference between two and three dimensional realities. It's a little alarming then that another treatise on something akin to "Flatland," Terry Pratchett's "Discworld", isn't better known in the United States. That's especially incomprehensible when one considers the fact that prior to J.K. Rowling, Pratchett was the best-selling author from the UK, not only for his "Discworld" series but a variety of other books, many in the same magical fantasy idiom that Rowling herself rode to stardom. The "Discworld" books blend the linear world of "Flatland" with an eclectic, and often very funny, amalgamation of mythologies and folklores to create a visceral and highly entertaining world, and would seem to be particularly apt for some sort of filmic adaptations. And yet this strange lack of renown for the series (at least beyond the coasts of the UK) becomes much, much clearer when one watches these spectacularly bad animated versions.

From a script and voice standpoint at least, there's nothing too egregiously horrible about either of these television efforts. Soul Music takes the rock 'n' roll music scene, perfectly ripe for parody, and transports it to Pratchett's vaguely medieval setting and this version certainly isn't shy about milking the comedic possibilities. The plot involves a young man, Buddy, who seeks to become Discworld's reigning rock idol, something he more or less attains, though along the way inviting the disdain of the hoi polloi, a la John Lennon, when he proclaims himself "bigger than cheeses" (think about it for a moment). A subplot involves Death (nicely voiced by the inimitable Christopher Lee in both of these features), who, owing to job stress, hands over the family business to his daughter, who promptly develops a crush on Buddy--not exactly a good thing for anyone looking to collect Social Security or whatever old age pension Discworld offers.

The Wyrd Sisters, on the other hand, riffs on Shakespeare, largely "Macbeth," (though with more than a smattering of "Hamlet" as well). Again, there's nothing horribly wrong with the script, which has some cute asides. ("When shall we meet again?" Three Witches ask at the start. "Tuesday looks good for me," answers one.) The plot in this one revolves around an assassinated King, his missing son (his heir), and the Three Witches, who plot to get the royal tot on the throne before the country goes to hell in a handbasket. Some of the subplots in this outing include the young witch in training, who seems to be Pratchett's take on hippiedom, and a rather fey demon who is invoked, first spouting bellowing roars, but who then devolves into "flaming" of another sort altogether (if you get my drift).

Unfortunately neither of these "Discworld" adaptations can escape the shoddiness of their visual presentations. Both of these efforts were produced in the late 1990s, when CGI was still a developing idiom. So the nascent CGI effects in either of these paltry episodes can't be entirely faulted. But how long has traditional cel animation been around? The amateurish hand drawn animation in both The Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music is so bad as to make early 1960s American regulars like Hanna-Barbera seem like Rembrandt by comparison. This is some of the most mind-numbingly horrible animation I've had the displeasure to sit through. Just one example of the almost lunatic incompetence of these episodes occurs early on in The Wyrd Sisters when the royal baby is handed over to them. "What's that?" asks one of the Witches. Another answers, "It's a baby." No obvious problem to you? How about if I told you that they cut to a close up of the baby, whose lips say "It's a baby" with the voice of the elder Witch. Maybe the director was on a lunch break.

The basic premise of the "Discworld" series certainly deserves better treatment than it is afforded in these laughably bad versions. Certainly some starry eyed live-action producer should be able to do a creditable version now that CGI has attained such glorious proclivities.

The DVD

Video:
Aside from the truly awful animation, The Discworld Collection offers an absolutely standard full frame television presentation. Colors are fine, and the image, such as it is, is relatively sharp, at least for its age. There are some neat transitional segue effects throughout the series offering some cool "melting" CGI moments. If only the other 3 hours and 56 minutes had had that level of sophistication.

Sound:
The standard DD soundtrack is actually quite robust, with great fidelity and good separation. Voice work is uniformly excellent and clear, and the quasi-medieval score has some nice touches.

Extras:
In an unusual twist for an Acorn release, there are several quite nice extras, including the complete "Welcome to Discworld" pilot that is largely CGI (an excerpt from the same pilot is also included on the other disc, strangely). There is also an interview with Pratchett, as well as a biography. The storyboard feature is fairly useless, with one rough illustration shown for each scene supposedly being detailed, with an option to then play the scene. Both features also offer character biographies in case you are new to the Discworld arena.

Final Thoughts:
I had high hopes for these two initial offerings based on their product description, hopes which were quickly dashed by the "award winning" animation (do they give awards for ineptitude? Apparently they do). Discworld deserves a big screen, big budget adaptation that can fully take advantage of both the visual realms Pratchett has imagined as well as his delicious sense of humor, something that even Rowling's work doesn't offer in as abundant a supply. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

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"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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