Under The Mountain: Movie Review
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
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
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.