Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Hogfather

We're partway through January, and that means it's time to mentally look back at December and a movie I watch every holiday season.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present Hogfather.

 Hogfather is based off the novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett, a name you'll see in this blog more than once.  Without getting too much into his past, he is one of the premiere humor authors in the world.  He also focuses his writings in fantasy worlds, but while there are elves, dwarves, and trolls, they are like nothing like you'd expect from Lord of the Rings.  In this story, the world is flat and round, a giant rotating disc, and it rests on the backs of four elephants who stand on the back of a giant space turtle that swims through the inky blackness of the universe.

The characters in his novels are also often not what they initially appear to be.  For instance, the main character is a young governess named Susan Sto Helit.

She has a job watching over two young children for a wealthy family, she has little to no social life, and her grandfather is death.

That's not a typo.  This is her grandfather:

It's a long story.

Anyway, her "heritage" sometimes puts her into the unfortunate position of being a bridge between the "mundane" world and the more "fantastic" world.  In this instance, she is called upon to help find the Hogfather, the fantasy world equivalent of Santa Claus, after he goes missing.

Now, something about Pratchett's writing is that he knows his myths, legends, and symbolism.  The importance of the Hogfather isn't just that children won't get any toys, it links back to the original "legend" about sacrifices that were necessary to assure the sun would come up again.  Therefore, no Hogfather, the sun won't rise.

Oh, and why can't Death, who always seems able to break the rules when it's convenient, not do it himself?  Because someone needs to fly around the world in a red suit and beard and deliver toys and deal with match girls freezing in the snow.

Has there ever been a more heartwarming sight?

The story explores a lot of the history of legends, to the creatures that hide in our closets when we're young (with a big emphasis on the boogeyman), to classic stories and legends like the tooth fairy.  There is still enough story left over to explain how, without a focus for the belief, new legends can spring up to fill the gap, and the new subjects aren't always pleasant.

Other characters who focus heavily into the story are the administrative department of the university for wizards, the newly-created God of Hangovers (who else is going to respond when you're moaning "oh god" over and over again?), and a particularly nasty assassin who goes by the name Mr. Teatime, tasked with killing a "fictional" character.

The settings are fantastic, combining fantasy with familiar settings for a British production, and while it helps to know some of the source material, the movie does a good job glossing over things that would just confuse the audience.  The Hogfather's ruined workshop, Susan's home, the University, and all of the background notes are done with a sharp attention to detail, be it a random dwarf wandering down a side street or a specific detail on a character's costume.

As for the humor, well, if you like British humor, you'll like this.  Obviously, most of the written jokes in a book can't all be transferred to the screen, especially since Pratchett likes to hide his jokes deep in descriptions and footnotes.  The jokes that do carry through, however, are sharp and well thought out, presenting an interesting idea even as the characters acknowledge they don't accept it for somewhat twisted reasons.

Overall, the movie is one of my yearly favorites, one almost unheard of by anybody else.  Before watching, I would easily recommend picking up one of his books (I can offer plenty of suggestions), but it isn't necessary.  But I do recommend it to anybody who ever wondered how a celebration of the days getting warmer happened to fall on the same day as when a guy in a red suit flies around the world, or even just wondered why Easter is celebrated with a rabbit that lays eggs.

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