Jun 10, 2010

[TV] Terry Pratchett's Going Postal (2010)

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal (2010)Books are such marvelous things but given how much creative content you can fit into one, they end up not being too friendly to adaptation. Let's face it - book-to-TV movies are practically guaranteed to lose something in translation since (1) movies can only go on so long and (2) they're complete different mediums with different priorities and rules. Apples and oranges and all that jazz, yes?

In recent years, it has become more and more apparent that writers may stand a better chance of getting their message across by resorting to not just a single movie, but multiple ones. If they don't quite command that kind of a silver screen audience, then there's always the TV mini-series route to explore.

Why precisely Sky1 decided to start adapting the crazy, creative and clever works of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series into TV mini-series is a bit beyond me, but I'm definitely not complaining! Thanks to them, we've seen a variety of Discworld stories come to life on the small screen with greater and greater accuracy. They may not be the best shows in the world or anything like that, but they do remain highly entertaining to watch. And yes, it pays to be a happy fan boy too.

Going Postal is based on the Discworld novel of the same name and is unique in the sense that it's one of the more recent novels compared to the previous adaptations. 

The series, like the book before it, centers around one Moist van Lipwig (Richard Coyle), a con man of considerable skill who eventually finds himself with the hangman's noose around his neck. And yet on the day of his execution he finds himself to be still alive despite having been hanged. Under these circumstances, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Havelock Vetinari (Charles Dance), makes him a most unusual but irrefusable offer: to run the Ankh-Morpork City Post Office. Given the only alternative to this is death, Moist agrees and becomes the new Postmaster General.

The postal service has fallen on hard times due to the popularity of the Clacks - a series of semaphore towers used to send messages quickly like telegrams. Thus all that's left of the post office crew is the aging Junior Postman Tolliver Groat (Andrew Sachs) and his pin-obsessed assistant Stanley Howler (Ian Bonar). As Moist sets about his work after a few escape attempts thwarted by his golem parole officer Mr. Pump (Marnix Van Den Broeke), he soon realizes there's more to this whole post office business than it seems. The past postmaster all died under strange circumstances. Reacher Gilt (David Suchet), current owner of the Clacks,  has been overly friendly and yet seems slimier than Moist himself. And Moist can't understand his unusual attraction to the chain smoking Adora Belle Dearheart (Calire Foy).

The mini-series was pretty faithful to the original book and did its best to capture a lot of the key elements to the story. I think I was most impressed by their depiction of the Clacks towers themselves. Seriously, those things were magnificent and such a nice depiction of the steampunk-like messaging technology. Then there were the small touches like trying to recreate the look of Pratchett's golems and of course the jaunty hat that the Postmaster general has to wear.

Of course I'm not saying it was a perfect translation - the movie had its odd moments. All those unsent letter induced dreams of Moist's guilty past were a bit too much for me. And I think I wished the select members of the Watch and the Times in this story were somehow better represented or something. But don't mind me - I'm probably being too much the Discworld fanboy or something.

I was surprised by the casting of Richard Coyle, mainly because we had just seen him in the Prince of Persia movie. Now he had to play a completely different role and he managed it decently but not exceptionally in any capacity. Let's face it - it's hard to pull off the role of the kind of snake oil salesman that Moist was supposed to be together with how charming he was written as a character. It's a tricky challenge for any actor and so given those circumstances I suppose I can forgive Coyle for now. I felt similarly about Claire Foy as Adora Belle - she was okay for the role but she didn't quite bring it to live as much as I had hoped. You'd think with such caricature-style characters they would have let loose a bit more but instead I felt they were holding themselves back a bit.

Still, it was certainly entertaining to revisit the TV version of Ankh-Morpork and even better still to get to experience another Discworld adventure in live-action. These may not be the most amazing movies or TV mini-series ever made, but they're still pretty darn good. Plus you have to admit that they're rather great as far as adaptations go especially when you think about their efforts to make things as close to the original book as decently possible.

Going Postal is a good movie for any Discworld fan although newcomers to the world might have a slightly trickier time, but not by much. It gets 3.5 rare, precious, collectible pins out of a possible 5.

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