Review: Hogfather (2003 movie)

If you’re not familiar with the Discworld series of novels by Terry Pratchett, it concerns, naturally, a flat but otherwise vaguely Earthlike planet riding on the backs for four elephants who in turn stand on the shell of an immense turtle. The civilization of the Discworld varies between medieval and roughly early-20th century, so that there are kingdoms and principalities, trolls and fairies, witches and wizards, swordsmen and pirates, and astronomers and department stores.

In this adaptation of one of the novels, mysterious beings calling themselves Auditors contract with the Assassin’s Guild to destroy the Hogfather, the Discworld’s counterpart to Santa Claus (whose sleigh is drawn by a quartet of flying pigs). Death, the traditional skeletal being who wears a black cowled rob, carries a scythe, and rides a flying horse name Binkey, rarely intercedes in mundane affairs except to sever souls from their bodies with said scythe. But he’s not happy in the least about the menace to the Hogfather, so to protect him he takes on the Hogfather’s usual duties, including delivering present all over the Discworld. In the meantime he persuades his grown granddaughter Susan to take an interest. (There’s an explanation of how Death came to have a granddaughter, but I forget the details.)

The three-hour, two-part television adaptation suffers from attacks of slow pacing and would benefit from some editing. But despite that, it’s still fun to see the Discworld and a lot of its memorable characters brought to life, especially if you’re already a Discworld fan. Much of it is quite funny, especially the bits involving the senior faculty and administration of the Unseen University for Wizards. And the villain is one of the most chillingly villainous you’ll see.

I also quite like Susan, both the character herself and the appealing actress who plays the part. (I’m not sure about the Jay Leno hair, though.) Susan is employed as a nanny, and unlike some nannies she doesn’t casually dismiss children’s fears of monsters lurking in basements and under beds. Instead she grabs the monsters wherever they’re hiding, beats the living crap out of them with a fireplace poker or similar instrument, and sends them fleeing in terror.

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