Culture

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (2006): Review

By Nephrite (and Sgathaich)

Hello again to my readers! I’ve been somewhat missing in action as of late and for that I wish to apologise. However there is a reason for this. For Christmas this year I had something special planned…but I can’t quite do it alone. Can I, my friend?

I  SEE YOU WERE EXPECTING ME.

YES I THOUGHT YOU WOULD ASK ABOUT THE VOICE, IT’ S  A REFERENCE THE FANS OF THE BOOKS WILL GET. SOME PEOPLE DO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE ADAPTATION NOT TRYING TO BE A GENTLE LEAD IN TO THOSE NEW FANS. BUT WITH THIS STORY I THINK IT’S BEST THAT WAY.

I certainly was expecting you Sgathaich. It wouldn’t feel right to discuss this particular story without company after all. But you should probably ease up on the VOICE. It’s killer on the throat.

FINE… ahem. My first introduction to Discworld was through the animated version of Soul Music. Quite fortunately it too was a story with much of this cast, though Susan was a lot younger with Soul Music being her introduction. From there I read the scripts of play versions of other stories like Guards! Guards! and Mort before moving on to reading some of the main stories like Reaper Man. So I was quite excited to see a new adaption of a Discworld novel when it was first on TV.

In all seriousness though I think it’s time we begin, don’t you? I have done some Sir Terry Pratchett reviews before, for Mort, Thief Of Time and The Wee Free Men as well as technically the Radio 4 version of Good Omens but if I’m going to do something special for Christmas, why not discuss the 2006 Sky TV adaptation of one of my personal favourites? Hogfather.

For those of you unfamiliar with its premise, the story is as follows: It’s the night before Hogswatch, an Discian holiday with a remarkable similarity to Christmas, and all round Ankh-Morpork all the little children are sleeping and waiting for their presents. But unfortunately The Auditors Of Reality – the same celestial bureaucrats from Thief Of Time which technically succeeds Hogfather– have hired an assassin to eliminate the Hogfather. They greatly dislike creativity. And someone will do it…after all it’s a job…just like any other. And as the unsettling Johnathan Teatime or as he prefers Te-Ah-Tim-Eh goes about his business the DEATH of the Discworld has to step in the Hogfather’s shoes and keep the children believing…while Susan Sto Helit DEATH’S granddaughter has to also do her part willingly or otherwise…or else the sun won’t rise on Hogswatch!

This adaptation is very enjoyable if you are already a fan of Pratchett’s work. It’s clear right from the beginning that they spent a decent amount of money on this as the use of CGI – especially for what is basically a pair of 2006 TV movies – is surprisingly impressive. The blue lights in DEATH’S eyes and the empty void of nothingness inside the Auditors whenever they appear in their cloaked form are examples. With also a pleasant amount of practical work as well. Another sign of their dedication to detail is the fact that there were a series of small vignettes and a behind the scenes documentary made about the making of the adaptation that aired during the run up to the broadcast of the first episode which is included in the two disc version of the DVD release.

The adaptation was written between Pratchett himself and Vadim Jean who also acted as director on the project. The writing in general terms is extremely accurate to the original novel with certain scenes being word for word recreations from the book. There are some differences however such as the very minor role given to the Death Of Rats and Quoth the Raven – companions of Susan – compared to the original being noticeable. Certain minor characters are removed entirely whilst the deaths of some characters are altered to fit the live action nature of the adaptation.

The cast is frankly stunning – especially for long time Discworld fans. Marnix van der Broeke played the part of DEATH in live action wonderfully whilst Ian Richardson (in his final televised role) provides the voice of DEATH (complete with at least one winking nod in the direction of House Of Cards). David Warner also has a small appearance as the head of the assassin’s guild whilst Marc Warren excellently plays the frankly disturbing man-child that is Mr Te-Ah-Tim-Eh. Susan is performed perfectly by Michelle Dockery to the extent that whenever I imagine Susan since first watching the adaptation I visualise Dockery. There are also lovely small appearances by Tony Robinson and Nigel Planer – both known to Discworld listeners as the main narrators of the abridged and unabridged audiobooks respectively with Planer providing the creepy voices for the Auditors – and original creator Terry Pratchett.

I find it quite enjoyable that while yes on the surface it would seem to be some non religious holiday special (News flash people all the best ones are non religious case in point It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th Street.) The tale uses the Christmas stand in more as a backdrop & means to talk about what the story is really about, belief… with some hilarious use of word play from Pratchett as well. Its a hard topic to discuss especially without it going into the talk on religion, since this isn’t belief in the sense of I believe in God or this faith but more the subject of Belief itself as a concept in all forms, here visualised by figures that Children view as real but adults don’t, such as the Hogfather, our Santa stand in, or the Tooth Fairy. I’d go into how the story expresses the nature of belief and its importance but that’s so well woven into the story that it would be going into deep spoilers to give away here.

One of the great strengths of the story is, all these things come together or get a great pay off. Things you might think are just silly little things to build character in the first half (usually with Susan) then go on to be shown to have a relevance of sort in the later moments showing a great understanding of the world Pratchett made and how it works. Yes it is true they don’t hold your hand or try to lead you in and explain some things like Death being an actual person or the story of Susan being his granddaughter(Go watch Soul Music for that.. it has Christopher Lee as Death) But having read the books, this wasn’t one that Is meant to be an easy jumping on point entry into the world and it would have damaged the adaptation to try and make it that

I suppose one last little bit I found enjoyable is that there is also a little bit that mirrors (almost certainly intentionally) how holidays over here have evolved. Take Christmas, started out not religious at all, just a midwinter celebration in Europe. Then it got taken over and co-opted by Christianity, It didn’t come to America till a later bunch of European settlers came in since the original European settlers (not the indigenous people, saying that here to avoid confusion) didn’t view Christmas as Christian, now it’s going back to being a non Christian winter festival all over the world. When you get to the parts talking about the origin of the Hogfather you can’t help but look at how our own holidays have changed over the years. A little personal interest of mine.

I have to say that I agree with you as regards the theming of the story. Pratchett always was a master at making you laugh and think and sometimes cry all at once. And that changing the story to make it more beginner friendly or TV friendly would have made it lose the magic that makes it so special. This can be seen in some of the radio adaptations for Pratchett where in my opinion I do think despite their best efforts some of the radio adaptations – but not all of them – fall short of the mark.

But in all honesty? Despite the adaptation not being especially beginner friendly I still adore it. The crew behind the scenes as well as the cast clearly genuinely love the Discworld universe and the amount of involvement by Sir Terry is a sign that from the beginning it was a labour of love to several people involved. We might not recommend it as a jumping on point – personally for a good jumping on point I would recommend either the original novels of Mort or Guards! Guards! – but for those of you who are curious about the Discworld and just what makes it special? The Sky TV adaptation of Hogfather is an excellent demonstration. Do you have any last comments oh friend of mine?

Thanks for doing this with me. I know doing non audio stories is out of your comfort zone so I’m quite grateful.

There’s no need to thank me. As soon as the idea was suggested I knew I had to do it. I can’t even remember if it was your idea or mine any more but nonetheless it’s a very worthwhile end to the year. See you soon!

As for my next review, I’m not quite sure when you’ll next hear from me be it visual, audio or opinion piece but I think this is my curtain call for the year. All I have left to say is be sure to find small joys where we can. After all we all deserve them.

See you all soon. Merry Christmas or Happy Hogswatch and a Happy Hogmanay.

Nephrite and Sgathaich

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