The Colour of Magic is a two-part television adaptation of the bestselling novels The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett. The fantasy film was produced for Sky One by The Mob, a small British studio, starring David Jason, Sean Astin, Tim Curry and Christopher Lee as the voice of Death. Vadim Jean both adapted the screenplay from Pratchett's original novels, and served as director.
The Colour of Magic was broadcast on Sky One, and in High Definition on Sky One HD, on Easter Sunday (March 23) and March 24 2008. The first part drew audiences of 1.5 million, with the second part attracting up to 1.1 million viewers. The film was well received by fans, but drew mixed reviews from critics, who generally praised the acting talent of the all-star cast, but criticised the film's script and direction.
The production is the second adaptation of Pratchett's novels as a live-action film, following the successful release of Hogfather on Sky One over Christmas 2006. Further adaptations by The Mob are planned, starting with Going Postal for release in 2009.
The plot of the adaptation largely follows the plot of the first two Discworld novels, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. The story primarily follows the exploits of Rincewind, a wizard who is expelled from Unseen University after spending 40 years failing to learn even the most basic magic. In fact, Rincewind's head holds one of the eight spells from the Octavo, the most powerful spellbook in the Discworld, and he has been unable to learn others because "they were afraid to be in the same head" as the Octavo spell. Rincewind is forced to act as a local guide for Twoflower, a property insurance salesman and the Discworld's first tourist, who is visiting Ankh-Morpork, and Twoflower's luggage, which is made from sapient pearwood and can run on its own legs.
After a misunderstanding over an insurance policy causes the owner of the inn where Twoflower and Rincewind are staying to commit arson, the pair flee the city. They proceed across the disk, encountering a variety of mythical creatures, most of which lead to near-death experiences. Fortunately for Rincewind, the Octavo spell in his head precludes him from actually dying, resulting in several comic encounters with Death. Meanwhile, a significant power struggle is occurring within Unseen University, which does not feature in the literary version of The Colour of Magic (but is described in The Light Fantastic). Narrator Brian Cox explains that "in the competitive world of wizardry, the way to the top is via dead men's pointy shoes... even if you have to empty them yourself". The power-hungry wizard Ymper Trymon plays out a battle for supremacy with the Unseen University's other senior staff members in a bid to become Archchancellor; Trymon assassinates several faculty members but is thwarted by the incumbent Archchancellor, Galder Weatherwax, and his superior magical knowledge of the Octavo: Trymon knows that there is no point in deposing the Archchancellor until he learns how to control the Octavo, which is growing increasingly restless as Rincewind (and the spell in his head) moves away from Ankh-Morpork and into greater danger.
Rincewind and Twoflower are eventually washed rimwards, and reach the kingdom of Krull, which lies on the very rim of the disk, where they are taken prisoner. The astronomers and "astrozoologists" of Krull have for many years attempted to determine the sex of Great A'Tuin, and are on the verge of launching a space vehicle to carry a pair of "cosmochelonians" on a new mission over the rim of the disk. Unaware of this destination, Rincewind and Twoflower take the place of the two cosmonauts and 'escape' to the spacecraft, which they accidentally launch, catapulting them off the rim. The prospect of losing the eighth spell in this fashion prompts the Octavo to act, causing A'Tuin to perform a barrel roll to recapture Rincewind, landing the pair near the centre of the disk. Watching the Octavo's action, the Archchancellor reveals his intention to use the Rite of AshkEnte to ask Death about the Octavo and also about a large red star that has recently appeared in the sky. Now knowing all he needs, Trymon throws Weatherwax from the Tower of Art and becomes Archchancellor in his place.
The red star grows steadily larger, and the people of Ankh-Morpork become worried, and mob the Unseen University because the wizards appear unable to save the Disc from it. Trymon learns from Death that all eight spells of the Octavo must be said together at the solstice to save the disk from destruction. Trymon dispatches a group of mercenaries, led by Herrena, to capture Rincewind and retrieve the eighth spell, along with a force of wizards. Meanwhile Rincewind and Twoflower encounter Cohen the Barbarian (87 years old, retired), and Twoflower rescues Bethan, a human sacrifice in a druid ritual. A battle between the wizards and Rincewind leaves Twoflower in a coma; Rincewind rescues him from Death's door, and Cohen in turn rescues Rincewind and Twoflower from Herrena and the mercenaries.
The four take a ferry to Ankh-Morpork, where the populace is rioting against the wizards of the Unseen University because the star is now larger than the disk's own sun. Trymon assembles the senior wizards of the University, and orders them to unchain the Octavo. When they release the spellbook, Trymon steals it and locks the wizards in its chamber. Rincewind releases them and they follow Trymon to the top of the Tower of Art, afraid that he will attempt to say the spells and that they will destroy his mind (and the rest of the world). Trymon, however, says the spells successfully and gains near-ultimate power, and turns the wizards to stone. Rincewind fights Trymon, who is eventually killed, returning the spells to the Octavo. Rincewind expunges the eighth spell from his head, completing the set, and reads the entire spellbook.
The star is finally revealed as a world-turtle breeding ground: the Octavo spells prompt several eggs orbiting the star to hatch into juvenile discworlds, which follow Great A'Tuin as it returns to deep space. The narrator tidies up a few loose ends: the Octavo is eaten by the luggage, which Twoflower donates to Rincewind. Rincewind himself re-enrolls at Unseen University, while Twoflower returns to the Counterweight Continent.
Differences from original texts
Although the film generally remains true to the original novels, several scenes and characters were removed or merged with others to bring the script to a reasonable length. Noting that "there wasn't time for everything", the producers cut completely the scene in the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth and the associated plotline about the significance of the number eight; Director Vadim Jean defended the decision, saying "we could have gone there, but we went to the Wyrmberg instead. There [were] time constraints and we could have gone one way or the other, so we went the whole hog on just one." To avoid the necessity of explaining the deus ex machina in detail, the Octavo in the film simply causes A'Tuin to roll to recapture Rincewind, whereas in the literary original, a complicated 'change spell' returns him to the Disc. The creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions which invade reality at the end of The Light Fantastic, and Rincewind's fight in the Dungeon Dimensions themselves, are completely omitted, and Trymon is simply driven mad by reading the Octavo spells at the end of the film version. Furthermore, in the original book Rincewind never attempted suicide (in the film he's shown trying and failing to jump into the River Ankh), and is introduced "cradling a bug of beer" when he spots the Luggage in the book. The Dryads are omitted from the book and Rincewind is saved from falling by the Luggage instead.
The adaptation was produced by The Mob, with Rod Brown, Ian Sharples, Elaine Pyke and Sarah Conroy credited as producers.
The Colour of Magic is the second live-action adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, following the highly successful Hogfather, which was broadcast over Christmas 2006 to an audience of 2.6 million. After the success of Hogfather, Pratchett was easily persuaded to release the rights for The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. he was happy to see a more liberal interpretation of his first two works than he had been for Hogfather. Speaking to Sky Magazine, Pratchett said that, "There [was] not so much emotional baggage... riding on The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. It was just this book of mine that suddenly started selling incredibly well". without destroying the appeal of the books. Jean said that "there [was] a real danger, with this story, that one could strip out the 'Pratchett-ness'... I had to fight to keep [it] in". saying "it wasn't the slaughter job I thought it would have to be", Gloucester docks as the docks of Ankh-Morpork, and the Royal Courts of Justice as the Patrician's Palace. Although all the fight sequences were carefully controlled for safety, some were choreographed to be more haphazard than others; each fighter was also given their own style for variety and humour. Liz May Brice (Herrena) noted the contrast in the ferry fight sequence, saying "the way we've done the fight, he [Cohen the Barbarian] is almost [winning] by mistake... it's sort of fun, whereas [Herrena] is very deliberate". The sequence had to be filmed in very short bursts as "all of the actors and stunt people could only manage around four to five minutes before they wanted to [vomit]".
David Jason was the first actor to be cast for the production, as it had always been his desire to play Rincewind in a film adaptation of The Colour of Magic. Jason describes the wizard as "just such an amusing, endearing character... I always kept this idea in my head that one day I [would] play Rincewind". drew mixed reactions, with comments ranging from "terrible choice" to "brilliant". A common criticism was that Jason, at 68, was too old to play a character who is, according to the books, middle-aged.
Several members of the cast previously had roles in Sky One's previous adaptation of Pratchett's novel Hogfather, including David Jason as Albert, Nigel Planer as Mr. Sidney, and Stephen Marcus as Banjo. Pratchett himself had also made a cameo in Hogfather as The Toymaker.
- David Jason as Rincewind, a failed wizard and the main protagonist.
- Sean Astin as Twoflower, the discworld's first tourist.
- Tim Curry as Trymon, the power-hungry senior wizard at the Unseen University
- Christopher Lee as the voice of Death
- Jeremy Irons as Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork
- David Bradley as Cohen the Barbarian, the most famous barbarian in the discworld, now 'retired'
- Laura Haddock as Bethan, a druid sacrifice, who falls in love with Cohen
- James Cosmo as Galder Weatherwax, the incumbent Archchancellor of the Unseen University
- Nicolas Tennant as Head Librarian of the Unseen University, who is turned into an orangutan during the events of the film
- Karen David as Liessa, a dragonlady from the Wyrmberg
- Liz May Brice as Herrena, a mercenary who is employed to capture Rincewind
- Nigel Planer as the Arch-Astronomer of Krull
- Richard Da Costa as The Luggage
- Miles Richardson as Zlorf, the leader of the Ankh-Morpork Assassins' Guild
- Stephen Marcus as Boardman, the bartender at the Broken Drum
Terry Pratchett appears in a cameo role, playing Astrozoologist #2 in the opening and closing scenes of the film. Richard Woolfe, the director of programming at Sky One, also appears as the Alchemist.
Release and reception
A teaser trailer, released in late February 2008, featured principal cast members, including Rincewind, Twoflower, Trymon and the Arch-Astronomer of Krull, attempting to describe octarine, the 'colour of magic'. The teaser concludes with the film's tagline: "a pigment of your imagination". Two more trailers were released in March 2008, containing a more complete synopsis, with narration by Brian Cox. The trailers formed part of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in partnership with Amazon.com and Borders Books. In addition to conventional adverts in national newspapers and banner ads on sites including MSN.com and Yahoo!.com, Sky launched a viral marketing campaign, and established a bluetooth hotspot at Victoria station, London, where fans could download video clips and ringtones to mobile phones. The second part of the film attracted an average audience of 967,000, peaking at 1.1 million during the 15 minute block from 7:15 pm. The Scotsman admitted that it was a "good-looking production that proper fans probably appreciated", but criticised the film for being "far too long... with leaden direction and script". The Times agreed, saying that "It looked good, in an over-glossy, Hallmark Productions kind of way, although every now and again the budget... looked stretched".
Pratchett himself said he was "very pleased" with the casting and production of the film, although he admitted that seeing his literary work adapted for the screen was "very bad for me: it's like I'm wandering around on the inside of my own head".
- The Colour of Magic official site at Sky.com
- Whitelaw, Paul (2008-03-25). "Far, far away - and yet strangely familiar". The Scotsman. http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/features/TV-review-Far-far-away.3908840.jp. Retrieved 2008-04-08.
- Billen, Andrew (2008-03-25). "The Frost Report is Back!; Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic". London: The Times. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/tv_and_radio/article3611745.ece. Retrieved 2008-04-08.