Reviewed by: Lori Souder
|Featuring||Brian Cox, Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, David Morrissey, Joel Tobeck, Craig Hall, Alex Etel, Marshall Napier, Geraldine Brophy, Priyanka Xi, Adam Smith, Erroll Shand, Jessica Kaczorowski, Mathew Kaczorowski|
“Ladder 49,” “My Dog Skip,” “Tuck Everlasting”
|Producer||Robert Bernstein, David Brown, Charlie Lyons, Charles Newirth, Barrie M. Osborne, Douglas Rae, Jay Russell|
|Distributor||Walden Media / Sony Pictures|
“Every big secret starts small.”
This film is based on the book The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith.
From misty and beautiful rural Scotland comes a movie that re-imagines the ancient legend of the Loch Ness Monster through the experiences of a young boy. This movie had an unusual release date of Christmas Day, as it is designed and marketed to appeal to both children and adults.
In modern day, two older teenagers are visiting a Scottish pub near Loch Ness and find themselves drawn to a vintage “alleged” photo of a sea monster on the wall. As they discuss whether the picture is real or a fake, an old man who is sitting in the pub tells them that there is more than meets the eye in the picture. They are intrigued and want to know more about the story and the possibility of the creature being real. So they sit down with the man, and he begins the tale of the Water Horse.
The main character of the story is Angus, a lonely young boy who is very sad and withdrawn because he misses his father who is in the British military service during World War II. Angus is played by Alex Etal (Millions). Angus is walking on the Scottish beach near his home looking for seashells. He is afraid to get in the water and walks carefully near the rocky shore to find tide pools and gather shells. In a sequence that seems to be really happening, he sees himself sinking down into the ocean. Other children, silently sitting nearby, are just watching him drown without doing anything to help him. But then we see Angus still dry standing on the rocks, so we know that we were seeing an imaginary drowning in his mind, not a real one.
Angus finds a large, scruffy, barnacle-encrusted, egg-shaped stone. For some unknown reason, it attracts his interest, so he takes possession of the treasure and returns home with it. His mother does not know that he has found anything special this time at the beach, since Angus has covered the contents of his bucket with seaweed so she would not see it. They drive home on a scenic country road to arrive at a very large and ancient “stately home” that looks like a castle. Angus later secretly takes his strange find to the estate’s potting shed. This building is his private place and was the former workplace of his Dad, the estate gardener. Now this is Angus’s domain where he can be alone and dream of his father’s return after his tour of military duty is finished.
Angus tries to clean up the egg-shaped stone and starts chipping away at some of the things that are growing on the rock. Soon the true luminous nature of the object is revealed by this cleaning. The stone is very beautiful, like the inside of an abalone shell, but with an odd wet texture. Angus is amazed, but then soon is called away from his task and has to leave the rest of the cleaning until the next day.
To his surprise later that night, he is awakened to hear odd noises coming from the potting shed. He races down to see what is happening, and finds that the otherworldly object he was cleaning must have been an egg! After some searching and breaking glass, and confusion, Angus finally finds the source of the noise and chaos, a small curious wet little creature seems to have hatched from his treasure. The animal is very cautious and skittery, but finally, after Angus gives him some little slices of potato, understands that Angus wants to take care of him. The two start to trust each other.
Angus quickly comes to love the little sea monster. He fiercely wants to protect his unusual new friend. He names it Crusoe, after the lonely shipwrecked character in the book Robinson Crusoe. But Crusoe does not stay small long, and soon his endless appetite and need for water makes him impossible to hide. Angus is quickly forced to reveal his secret to first, his sister, and then enlist someone that he barely knows, the new handyman, to help keep Crusoe safe and hidden. Things go from dangerous to deadly as a British military unit unexpectantly arrive to “take over” the estate. The officers move into the house itself, requiring the use of the tub that Crusoe is living in. There are men everywhere encamped in the yards and in the house, so there is nowhere safe for a tiny secret, let alone one growing as fast as Crusoe. The rural estate that used to be quiet, empty, and serene is now overrun with men in uniform, a full time cook, and a very nosy English Bulldog named Churchill.
From this point, the movie loses it heart and starts focusing on the threat to Crusoe, which unfortunately turns the movie into a predictable Hollywood cliché. More shooting! More peril! Larger weapons! More explosions! More lack of military communications! More confusion! More near misses! More danger for our heroes! More ridiculous hurdles to jump!
The movie left me with a sad feeling that I wanted so much more from the promise of the original movie trailer. It seemed that much time that Angus might have spent with his Water Horse and the people around him to aid the healing of his life was chopped out so there would be more time for the British military to make endless foolish mistakes and kill every living thing in Loch Ness, and to bully and enslave Angus. None of these things added to the movie, they only took away from it.
The movie comes off as very anti-military. It portrays the British Army men at the estate as incompetent, trigger-happy oafs with huge deadly weapons that they fire willy-nilly for no reason at all. There would have been so many dead fish in Loch Ness that the fishermen would have stormed the military encampment and drove them out with fishing poles and oars! But we did not see any dead fish floating in the lake at any time, despite the needless and repeated devastation of the environment.
This movie started as a book that was originally written for young children, unlike several recent fantasy movies for families that were adapted from books written for older teens and/or adults like Stardust and The Golden Compass. The book The Water Horse was written by Dick King-Smith who wrote the book Babe: The Gallant Pig that also was adapted into a family movie. The original main character of The Water Horse book is an eight year old girl named Kirstie. The movie does not follow the book exactly.
The movie speaks to the secret desire of all human hearts, young child, teenager, and adult included. The desire is to be intimately connected with something much bigger than themselves, something that loves them unconditionally, and is very powerful and mysterious. There are good themes covered in the movie. They are:
There were very few bad things in the movie, other than the many, many pointless artillery shell explosions in Lock Ness and the forcing of underage Angus to “join the army.” There is very little crude language in highly accented Scottish, and a hint of hanky panky that might be going on off-screen between the female cook and the Army cook. There are two scenes of smoking and several of drinking hard liquor, but they are brief. There is no discussion of sex, and no skimpily dressed people. The issue of the mythical Water Horse story is very lightly touched on, not as a magical supernatural creature, but more as a real creature that is misunderstood. At one point, Angus takes a small boat (that is not his) out on the lake, he cannot swim, and he does not tell anyone where he has gone.
If there is any real magic in the movie, it is both the human casting and the design and effects of the creature. Every one of the main characters is so magnetic and interesting and wonderful that I just wanted to see them more and understand them and see them interact. Emily Watson (“Angela’s Ashes”) plays Angus’s mother, Ben Chaplin (“The New World”) plays the somewhat mysterious handyman Mowbray, and Priyanka Xi, a new comer, plays the sister of Angus. And I could not get enough of the wonderful actors playing the younger Angus and his father in flashbacks.
The creative and magical creature of the Water Horse is spectacular and reason enough to see this movie. The light in the little young one’s eyes, the intelligence, the noises, and the transformation to a huge, believable adult monster is worth the admission alone. This mythical beast is treated with respect and given all the best attributes that we see on our beloved pets like dogs and cats, as well as the gallant traits we admire in lions, horses, and whales. I was not disappointed at all, but thrilled to see how much love and time and money was put into making the creature come to life. I just wish Crusoe had a little more time to spend in the early scenes with Angus. They flew by.
The scenery of Scotland is beautifully filmed and if you have been to Scotland, will give you a little ache of longing for the land and the people. If you have not been, it will show you an idea of why Scotland is considered so special and legendary. The Scottish Board of Tourism is gearing up for new waves of families to visit the area, as they have sponsored a travel planning Web site featuring the water horse creature with Sony pictures.
Because of so much explosive violence and peril for the main characters, and some roughness here and there, I cannot recommend this film for small children (especially girls) as they might be frightened. Some of the characters’ relationships were not well explained at first, so it could be confusing to understand why Angus and his family live on the estate, although it does not belong to them. They have no power over the rather abrupt and scary “military invasion” which might be unsetting to some children. There is the loss of a father that is not fully dealt with believably, and lots of loud noise and terrifying explosions that go on WAY too long and seem very real and might kill Angus and his friend.
Overall, I enjoyed the early part of the movie, but thought that the military plotline was totally pulled in from another movie, and it felt alien and unrelated to the rest of the story. I realized that some great themes of the movie were barely touched on and could be completely missed in all the explosions and pointless violence. A few important things went unexplained, in favor of the long “shoot-em-up” scenes. I think that if the movie had been more balanced, and if the ending had been less abrupt and more positive, it would have been a perfect movie, but I was left pitying the wistful adult Angus and wishing for more of the fantasy of the relationship of the creature and the lonely young boy. I was waiting for the emotional pay-off scene at the end, but it never came. Still, I got to see a real Water Horse! Oh, it wasn’t real?
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.