Saturday, 4 December 2010

Transsiberian, The wizard of Oz and The Dark is Rising

The weather continues to be cold with one forecast promising it will continue for another week and possibly onward until the New Year. The country is grinding to a standstill with motorists told not to go out unless their journey is essential. Only about two thirds of trains are running although in the south east where there are live rails, there are none because these have frozen over. Several airports are closed. Two elders in their eighties living on their own in Cumbria have been found dead, having both frozen in their gardens, one going to the outside toilet because of a health condition prevented her from going upstairs and the other going out to get coal. Both are through to have fallen and lain their unable to attract attention from neighbours.

This is the context for reviewing Transsiberian a film described as a thriller in which Ben Kingsley plays a corrupt Russian Police man on the train in search for a drugs courier with both the drugs and the money of a Russian overlord.

Also on a different train on the same route from Beijing to Moscow is an American couple returning home from working at a Christian Mission in China. The husband is a very serious man having marital difficulties because his wife finds him conventional and boring, The trip is to be an adventure although he goes off looking at trains which is one of his hobbies. This interest leads into the kind of adventure that neither is seeking.

They meet another couple on the train who boast of being globe trotters from the passports that they show. The missionary worker is fascinated by this couple but his wife is cautious sensing trouble. The husband stays too long at a stop looking at engines in a siding and misses the train. The three others continue until reaching a town about a day’s travel further along the line where the wife gets get off to wait for her husband to catch up and the other couple get off with her saying that it would not be safe for her to be alone. The motive of the man is not altruistic.

At the hotel where they stay the travelling American comes to the room of the young wife to ask to shower as his is not working and she sees his naked body.

She is called to the phone with a message that her husband will arrive later in the day and during this unexpected period we subsequently learn that the American traveller places in her case sets of Russian dolls within dolls. These she later finds contain drugs.

When she returns he offers to take her on a visit to see an old Russian church as photography is her hobby. This involves a bus trip and then a walk through a snow clad forest where the derelict church has a picturesque exterior and decorated walls inside. The simmering sexual attraction between the couple leads to passionate kissing before the girl pulls back from intercourse. The man refuses to stop and she defends herself by killing him. She makes her way back to rejoin her husband and on to the train. This time it is the other girl who stays behind waiting for her husband to arrive.

It is on this part of the journey that by coincidence, or is it that they share a four bed sleeping cabin with Ben Kingsley on his way back to Moscow.

This is also when the wife discovers that the man she killed had placed in the couple’s luggage the drugs. She manages to transfer these to a vanity case with the aim of disposing them. She is frustrated in doing this and explains what has happened to her husband without revealing the trip and the killing. He takes the initiative and tells the Russian Policeman what happened. He appears to be satisfied. However the following morning they find they have been separated from the rest of the train (Lady Vanishes style) except for the Russian detective and his assistant, plus train driver. They are taken to an isolated military installation where they also find the wife of the travelling American being tortured. The main interest of the Policeman is not the drugs but the money. The policeman claims that the girl recruited her husband to run the drugs and that it she who had taken the money and been responsible for someone‘s death. The wife believes what the girl’s husband had told her, that the girl was an innocent.

Amazingly the two manage to escape and then the husband is able to start the train but his knowledge id inadequate and the Policeman and assistant are able to board the train and re-question the wife who admits that she killed the courier but she is not believed. At this point the train collides with another followed by police and the Detective shoots his assistant claiming he was the corrupt official so as to protect his personal position

There is a time gap during which the couple are recovering from their injuries, presumably in a nearby city where they are met by USA officials who explain something of the history of the killed man who has a long criminal record which includes crimes of sexual assault. This confirms the wife’s view that his partner was an innocent who met the wrong man. She does not admits to the killing and therefore the whereabouts of the body is unknown although her husband did hear her confession earlier. She then visits the other young woman who is recovering from the torture in hospital. We are not privy to what is being disclosed but we then see the girl when she has recovered making her way to the ruined church and located the body now covered with snow. She recovers a large money and walk a way into a new life.

There is some good scenery on one of those journeys one wishes there was the time and funds to make, along with world cruises and the world’s wild and historical places. However the film lacked credibility from start to finish.

There is no requirement to believe in the story of the Seeker, The Dark is Rising which is a film adaptation of the second of a five book series by Susan Cooper.

A boy is a day away from his 14th birthday at the start of the Christmas holidays. He and four brother and a sister living with their parents in a very odd house just outside a town village within commuting distance of their school in central London. A sixth brother is the USA navy. On the bus his attention is taken by an attractive fellow pupil, a new girl, who leaves her scarf on the bus which he takes to return to her when the mew term commences.

The boy, Will, appears to be under close observation of three locals, two farmers and n assistant to one of them, or so it appears, and at one point they deliver the family Christmas tree. Will and his brothers and sister receive an invitation to attend a party held at the local Manor House.

Before the party he goes shopping and is accused of shoplifting by two security guards who remove him to a isolated part of the store where the officers behave in a frightening way to the extent that the boy breaks free and they pursue him turning into rooks in the process. At the party at the Manor House he sees the girl on the bus but is then upset when an older brother takes direct interest and starts a relationship. When walking home on his own he is pursued by a Rider on a horse, and rescued by the watches together with the owner of the Manor Miss Greythorne.

It is at this point that Will, is told that he is the seventh son of a seventh son he is the last of the great ones with special powers to be born but his power only commences on his fourteen birthday and the Dark of the world, known as the Rider (Christopher Eccleston) is out to stop him gaining power by getting the six Signs. The first of these he had unknowingly already acquired, a Pendant bought as a present for his sister and which is what the security guards wanted from him. He then finds out that the older twin brother was kidnapped when a baby and of which he has no recollection. The loss of the brother appears to have affected the father more than the mother and has affected the man’s relations with his other children. An Ancestor of the father is the creator of the six Signs

I worked for a local authority where the someone who became deputy Council leader was the seventh son of the seventh son. While he and several members of the family were active in public service there was no hint of magical or special powers. I was given an oil painting of a view of Durham Cathedral by one of the brothers who was an amateur artist.

Will decides to accept his role and is able to time travel in the search for the Signs, assisted in part by the four others, who are described as the Old Ones. During one adventure when he goes for the Shield used by Vikings who previously attacked the town (I say town although the film notes refer to village as there are two many shops for an English village), he takes his only sister with him so she becomes that her brother has changed and becomes suspicious of the girlfriend of the older brother when she switches her interest to Will. The girl is in fact an ancient witch who is given eternal youth on the basis getting the Signs and when ordered to get these she is nearly successful, paying the penalty when she fails.

The problem is while the first five Sign are identified the sixth remain unknown during which time the Rider is gaining in power. Will and the four Olds retreat to the Great Hall to try and works out the whereabouts and nature of the sixth because the Rider cannot enter this location. However he cleverly imitates the voices of Will’s father, mother and sister to gain entry. He then gives Will the choice of surrendering the Signs, giving the darkness power over the world, but releasing his twin brother who has imprisoned since babyhood and offering them a position under his control. Will realises that he is the sixth Sign and does battle, defeating the rider and saving the world.

I thought the film is best described as a poor man’s Harry Potter although the series was written two decades before the Potter books which in turn also go back to Lord of the Rings and a century of books about the battle of good against evil written for young adults and which include magic including Merlin and the King Arthur Legends.

I have read much criticism of the film and that the writer of the original stories was not happy at the way the filmmakers changed events, characters and storyline to achieve great appeal. In the event the film annoyed supporters of the books and did not gain a new audience. The film makers argued it was sensible to make Will two years older to mark the usual age when adolescence commences, something which his father suggested was the cause of Will feeling odd when the boy tried to explain what was happening to his parent. The family are made American not English to emphasise their cultural differences. Family rivalry and disunity, his alienation at school and his crush on the new pupil are all add-ons to the original story.

I have looked at what Wikipedia says about the original series. The main family with children are human children who holiday in Cornwall where they join the battle between the light and the dark They feature in books one, three and five. Will appears to meet up with the other family on one of the books. There is also The Lady, one of the ancient figures in addition to those covered in the second book and film. She can overcome the full power of the Dark on her own. In addition to the Dark Rider there is another servant of the Dark, the White Rider. The ancient knights called the Sleepers served during the time of King Arthur. The Old Ones have Things Power to defeat the Dark in the final battle of which the Signs are one group. There is also the Grail, the Harp and the Sword. There is the Book of Gramarye, seen in the film which teaches the old ones about their powers and where Will needs the Signs in order to understand his true self. The ability to move through time and space is achieved by summoning a set of carved oak doors. Magic is also divided between the Old which is elemental with the Light and the Dark its extremes. There is Wild magic with has emotional power, equal to that of the Dark and the Light but apart. There is also High Magic, greater than the others using the power of the cosmos. The failure of the film has not resulted in plans for a sequel which is suggested at its closing.

The need to make use of film technology and to try and adapt stories to fit the latest audience interest was not a problem for the 20 writers of the Wizard of Oz who included King Vidor, George Cukor, and Ogden Nash and which continues to demonstrates that a team can produce a masterpiece as well as any individual. In that instance the writer of the original story had been dead for two decades.

I have written extensively before about the film which I viewed with my mother several times in her 99th year. It has an excellent simple story of an orphan young girl played by Judy Garland who wishes for a better and more exciting life, when she and her dog are threatened by a neighbour (Somewhere over a rainbow) and faced with the loss of her dog when it bites the woman, she runs off while her aunt and uncle, and farm hands rush to get out of the way of a Twister heading for their farm. Dorothy gets as far as meeting a travelling fortune teller Professor Marvel who cleverly persuades the girl to return home where she is rendered unconscious when the Tornado strikes.

When she awakes she is transported from the grainy brown world of the first part of the film into the full new colour technology of Munchkin land where she has unintentionally killed the wicked witch of the East, only to become the enemy of her sister the wicked witch of the West. In the film Dorothy is helped by the Good witch of the North, a composite character from the book by L Frank Baum covering also the Good witch of the south. The slippers which protect Dorothy from the bad witch are made crimson instead of silver because of the use of the Technicolor.

Early on in Munchkin land Dorothy sets off on the Yellow Brick Road to seek the help of the Wizard of Oz and encounters Scare Crow, Tin Man and lion who are the three farm hands helping her aunt and uncle. The wizard is Professor Marvel and the Wicked witch the hostile neighbour. In the film it is the three companions who gain their spurs by setting out to rescue Dorothy, a reversal of the position in the book. Dorothy triumphs and regain consciousness. The film remains a triumph engaging new children fans with each annual showing.

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