Thursday, 10 December 2009

Under The Mountain: Movie Review

Under The Mountain: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Sam Neill, Oliver Driver, Tom Cameron, Sophie McBride
Director: Jonathan King
How do you adapt a classic?
Particularly one as inherently Kiwi and steeped in our culture as hokey pokey ice cream or The Topp Twins?
That's the dilemma facing the director Jonathan King in this new adaptation of Maurice Gee's much loved book Under The Mountain, first published back in 1979.
In this version (a little removed from the iconic eighties television series) teen twins Theo and Rachel (Tom Cameron and Sophie McBride) are growing apart after the death of their mother.
The psychic bond shared by the pair is under strain as Theo refuses to face the reality of the situation - however, the pair stay with relatives in Auckland and discover their future lies in helping Mr Jones (Sam Neill) defeat the Wilberforces before they unleash the power beneath the volcanoes and destroy the world..
Personally I think it's hard to really appreciate Under The Mountain out of context of New Zealand - the whole production is clearly a NZ venture; from the sweeping panoramic shots of Auckland and the NZ countryside to a very funny aside about the reality of calling in the New Zealand Army, Under The Mountain is steeped in Kiwiana.
Maurice Gee's book is considered a classic by many - and it's fair to say there's a weight of expectation on this adaptation.
What director Jonathan King's managed to create is an incredibly creepy and, in places, downright scary film - the oozing menace from Oliver Driver's head Wilberforce is likely to give kids nightmares. He is a boogeyman for the 21st century and thanks to WETA workshop's impressive prosthetic work and Driver's staccato vocals, there'll be plenty who'll want to sleep with the lights on for a while to come.
The effects are equally as impressive - whereas the directors could easily have used CGI to create everything, they've opted for a mix of live action and CGI which seamlessly blend in.
Scenery plays a vitally important part in this film - Rangitoto towers in the background, forever lurking and casting a shadow over what transpires in the film - beautiful panoramic shots highlight the juxtaposition of the alien decay of the Wilberforce place on Lake Pupuke in comparison to the life and vitality of Auckland's finest.
For first time actors, Tom Cameron and Sophie McBride acquit themselves not too badly; and Leon Wadham's cousin Ricky, who initially grates as a comedy relief, finds something meatier is required of him when the Wilberforce threat becomes real - Sam Neill as ever brings gravitas and a degree of humanity to his role as Mr Jones.
If there's to be a criticism of Under The Mountain (and unfortunately there has to be), it comes after the 60 minutes mark - after building an incredible atmosphere of menace and threat, it all becomes a little unstuck and the ending is somewhat rushed and a little muddy. A moment of sacrifice from a major character unfortunately doesn't ring as emotionally true as it should and it clouds the film's denouement.

Overall, Under The Mountain deserves to do well in New Zealand as it's imbued with an inherent love of the source material here - for the young kids, there's a brand new generation of Wilberforces to give them the heebie jeebies - and for those who fondly remember the iconic TVNZ series, there's plenty of moments to empathise with the kids as their teen fears are realized.

No comments:

Post a Comment