The Colour of Magic is a Discworld fantasy-adventure based on the writings of Terry Pratchett. The author describes the two-part televised episodes as, essentially, a road movie that combines two books – the titular tale, a spoof of sword and sorcery stories, and its continuation in The Light Fantastic.
Rincewind (David Jason), a wizard who’s been expelled from the Unseen University for failing to make any progress in many years of wizardry training, is commanded under threat of death by the Patrician (Jeremy Irons with a puppy and a lisp) to protect Twoflower (Sean Astin), Discworld’s first tourist. It’s vital that Twoflower returns home, first alive, and secondly, with good reports of his time spent in Ankh-Morpork, the principle city.
But the naïve Twoflower makes this task especially challenging by flashing his solid gold coins in front of thieves, gangs and beggars. He doesn’t seem to realise he’s surrounded by danger on all sides, but only looks at every moment as an adventure not to be missed.
Rincewind’s own moral compass is easily tugged toward coin and he consents to guide his charge, who’s paying for the privilege.
Throughout their travels they encounter dragons that can turn transparent, gigantic trolls made of rock, an impeccably-dressed Guild of Assassins, an elderly, legendary hero in a loin cloth and leather-clad younger sword swingers. Luckily their lives aren’t left solely to their own wits and wisdom.
Rincewind has the protection of a spell he accidentally released on a dare that’s now lodged within him, although he has no idea how to use it. Twoflower is relying on Rincewind’s back alley smarts and the magic powers he mistakenly believes Rincewind has full control of, but it’s his own Luggage that helps him most. A large trunk of gold and personal possessions follows Twoflower wherever he goes, scooting around on dozens of pairs of pale bare feet and coming to the rescue with more than a clean pair of shorts on more than one occasion.
As the touring pair set off, an ominous red star appeared in the sky and no one knows why. Not even the wizards in their high tower. They’re busy trying to hold onto their own hats as one in their number is advancing through the ranks by bumping off his higher-ups. (In the Unseen University, a wizard inherits the pointy shoes and chapeaus of his superiors as he takes on their roles and spells when they pop their proverbial clogs.)
Locked away within the wizards’ walls is the Octavo, the most magical book binding seven powerful spells with its eighth gone AWOL. The living book starts acting up at the same time as Rincewind is ejected from the university. It seems to be reacting to that event and the equally curiously-timed arrival of the fast approaching fiery star. All of the Octavo’s powers will be called into play if there’s to be a happy ending in Discworld, and Rincewind, and his head-embedded spell, will play a pivotal – make that orbital – role in the fate of multiple worlds.
I have to declare myself a Pratchett noob, having never read any of the Discworld series. So I approached the double episodes as an original story on its own merit, rather than adaptations. I’d watched and enjoyed Hogfather, so knew roughly what to expect. And I wasn’t disappointed with this second Sky two-parter for TV.
As a card-carrying member of the Word Play Appreciation League, I love the narration (by Brian Cox) and dialogue peppered with puns. Much of it is groan-inducing, but you’re grinning while you’re groaning and it’s all good fun.
Christopher Lee replaces the late Ian Richardson as the voice of Death and the brief scenes with Death personified are some of the choicest moments in the episodes. So are the devices and devious means that the wizard, Trymon (Tim Curry), uses to get rid of wizards in his way. Other actors make return appearances (from Hogfather), but in entirely different parts, which threw me a bit at first. But these episodes have firmly confirmed in my mind what a national treasure David Jason is. He’s a real wonder to watch and a jewel on the crown of an exceptional cast.
Costumes, sets, scenery and effects are first-rate and you never get the feeling that the production team had to scrimp too much. It’s easy enough to get swept up into this world on a plate that is just left of centre of ours and you might even forget this is made-for-TV fare.
Pratchett purists are sure to have problems with missing scenes and plot changes, and other elements sacred in fandom, but Mr Pratchett was involved every step of the way, including last minute edits, so if it’s good enough for him….
What I can say about the adaptation, which must be the ultimate criticism, is that it makes me want to read the books.
Exras This double-disc edition includes an introduction by Terry Pratchett, who also plays a small role in the story. The Director’s Commentary track is a bit of mislabelling. It’s more likely a much shorter recorded interview that’s been interspersed at intervals throughout the two episodes. Much of the time the placements are appropriate, but not always. It probably would have been better as a stand-alone feature, but it’s not a huge fault. It did address most of the things I wondered most about – cast considerations, nods to fans and how certain scenes were accomplished.
Personally, I’m partial to well made menus. They’re a perfect opportunity to really get creative and artistic with the presentation. The Colour of Magic’s menus aren’t nearly as intricate or impressive as those the Hogfather discs were treated to, and, bizarrely, the selection section is very small and crammed into a corner with acres of space to spare. Options are hard to read, even on a large screen. Still, they’re serviceable and attractive and don’t detract from the joy of ownership of a great story and some very appealing extras.
The obligatory deleted scenes, blooper reels and stills are hardly worth mentioning as they’re silent, brief, and banal. However, there’s a highly entertaining series of black-and-white videos (made to look like old-time film) entitled ‘Discworld Tour Guides’ hosted by the Head Librarian, Dr Horace Wobblehat, and his assistant. In total they run to about an hour with segments such as ‘Geography of Discworld’, ‘Flora & Fauna’ and where to find the best meals and entertainment, complete with commercials and Public Service Announcements. To their credit, the two presenters are so engaging they managed to hold my attention the entire running time. It’s a clever, unique, and welcome addition to the disc and easily justifies the purchase price if you happen to have recorded the episodes when they aired last Easter.