- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he Hogfather is Santa Claus. He dresses the same and serves the same function, only he looks like a wild boar on two legs. This makes perfect sense given that “Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather” takes place on Discworld – a universe that’s alternate, but similar to our own. The Auditors – creepy, cloaked figures devoted to logic and reason – have put a hit out on the Hogfather. The Auditors are reminiscent of the Vogons from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” They’re slaves to bureaucracy, and the Hogfather (again, “Santa Claus”) represents the purest form of belief, which undermines the Auditors’ objective of keeping the world running in as uncomplicated a manner as possible. If it all sounds too far-fetched, give it a few minutes and you’ll embrace it as quickly as you accepted that Hogwarts was a school for young magicians in the “Harry Potter” series. In fantasy, some things just are.
Pratchett unveiled his first “Discworld” novel in 1983, and at present the author has written a whopping 35 more entries, but it’s important to understand that “Hogfather” is a self-contained tale. This miniseries was my introduction to “Discworld,” and if a bumpkin like me can get it, you can, too. As much as I’d like to call this fun for the whole family, the material is kids’ fare only for the most advanced. It’s hard to imagine anyone under the age of 13 being anything but befuddled by the goings-on – and maybe that’s a compliment. It’s also tempting to recommend it to “Potter” and “Narnia” fans, but the truth is that devotees of Douglas Adams will groove on it harder than anyone else. Indeed, what Adams did with – or rather to – sci-fi, is what Pratchett does to fantasy.
Given the task of taking out the Hogfather is Mr. Teatime (pronounced Tee-uh-Tommy), and Marc Warren (“Hustle”) plays him with a cold, vicious innocence. I’ve read a few criticisms of Warren’s take on the character from “Discworld” fanatics, but perhaps that goes to show how much originality he put into the role. Not sure I’ve ever seen a villain anything like him, and when he’s onscreen everything revolves around his bizarre presence.
“Hogfather” has its heroes as well, and the most remarkable is Death (voiced by Ian Richardson). Death looks as clichéd as you’d expect: a long black robe, a static, skeletal face and glowing eyes (basically, as he appears in “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,” and with a similar attitude). When Death realizes that something’s happened to the Hogfather on Hogswatchnight (i.e. Christmas Eve), he takes it upon himself to don the red suit and deliver gifts, climb down chimneys, talk to kids at the toy store, etc. It takes a while for him to get the hang of it, and his eventual embracing of the phrase “Have you been naughty or nice?” might well be the central theme of the piece. Director Vadim Jean’s ability to make the character work so effectively is the production’s greatest achievement (if for no other reason than because Death requires minimal effects work), and there’s never a moment he’s absent you don’t wait for him to come back on screen. Susan (Michelle Dockery) is another hero on the case of the missing Hogfather. When we first meet her, she’s seemingly a jaded nanny, but by the end she’s a central figure with a pivotal connection to Death. Dockery is a striking lead, and a relative unknown whose name we’ll someday bandy about as if we do know her.
Susan (reading to the children): … “and then Jack chopped down what was the world’s last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned. And all the Giant’s children didn’t have a daddy anymore. But he got away with it, and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he’d done – which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions.”
Even though I’ve really only scratched its surface, by now you hopefully know if “Hogfather” is your cup of tea. Still on the fence? The production values are next door to fantastic. This was a two-part miniseries made for British television (the total running time is 189 minutes), and as such it’s maybe a step or two below a studio fantasy movie in the effects department. If it occasionally lacks convincing effects, it more than makes up for it through script, acting and sheer belief in its satirical mission. Just wait ‘til you experience its elaborate take on the Tooth Fairy. (Another Vadim Jean-helmed “Discworld” adaptation, “The Colour of Magic,” starring Sean Astin, Tim Curry and Christopher Lee as “Death,” is coming to the U.K. this spring.)
Special Features: There’s only a nicely informative (though amateurishly edited) 20-minute interview with Terry Pratchett, and a trailer. But given the affordable price, the lack of extras can hardly be considered a huge strike against the disc.