With the success of 2006’s The Hogfather, it was inevitable that Sky TV should attempt to follow it up with a bigger and more ambitious Terry Pratchett adaptation. There’s an appeal to the combination of Sir David Jason and Pratchett’s brand of whimsical fantasy satire that makes it possibly the perfect Easter-holiday-lolling-in-front-of-the-TV fodder.
This time round, Sky has taken on the more onerous task of effectively bringing Pratchett’s debut Discworld novel, 1983’s The Colour of Magic, to our small screens. And if the crowds outside the West End cinema premier of the first of the two-part adaptation are anything to go by, the team behind them (The Mob Film Company) are doing a sterling job. Wizard hats, beards and elaborate fan costumes are much in evidence, and each cast and crew member is greeted as they arrive with shouted Pratchett catchphrases from the throng of somewhat overexcited über-fans, much to the bemusement of passers by.
Speaking to The Void after the screening, Sir David Jason explains the very simple motive for his decision to take on the job of bringing the hapless and hopelessly ineffectual wizard Rincewind to the screen. “I read the book when it came out all those years ago and fell in love with it, and the character, straight away. I’ve wanted to do it ever since.” One caveat was the guaranteed close involvement of Terry Pratchett himself. “Terry’s books are so stunning and imaginative – our real hope was that we could bring just some of the same magic to the screen as he’s brought to the written word.”
Pratchett’s involvement has certainly been hands on. Despite recent health concerns, he cuts a very sprightly figure with his trademark black trilby and silver tipped cane, and his energy seems boundless. “The budget was the equivalent to Arnie’s cigar bill on an average Hollywood movie,” he says. “But – and I think we’ve proved this – ingenuity will get you through times of no money better than money can get you through times of no ingenuity.”
Apart from working on the script (he is credited with ‘mucking about’ with it in the credits), he ‘had the run of the place’, his involvement even stretching to central casting decisions: “It was wonderful – I suggested Jeremy Irons for the role of the Patriarch and lo and behold they got him. I then took another look at the script and rewrote some of the dialogue accordingly, with the knowledge of what Jeremy could uniquely bring to the delivery of the lines.”
Sean Astin had long been mooted for the role of Twoflower, but Pratchett knew the erstwhile hobbit would actually sign on the dotted line after lobbying him personally at a sci-fi convention. And how did Astin feel about working with much-beloved UK television institution Sir David Jason? “When I got to the UK, I went to a local DVD shop and asked the guy behind the counter if they had anything with Sir David Jason in it. After being looked at like I was an idiot, I eventually left with about three grand’s worth of DVDs. I subsequently spent much of the time on set torturing him with questions about a lot of them”.
The richly detailed and sweeping tapestry created by Pratchett in the books is inevitably going to be difficult to transfer to the small screen in its entirety, so how did director Vadim Jean decide what was going to be cut out and what was going to be left in? “We were completely spoilt by the source material and, to be honest, I just asked myself what I would like to see the most. Two things that immediately sprang to mind were upside-down sword fighting and invisible dragons. Some decisions were already made for us – we’ve all already seen Sean being attacked by a giant spider and probably don’t need to see it again!”
“The upside-down sword fighting was included because Vadim wanted to see me suffer,” adds Sir David, who estimates that he and Sean did between one half and three quarters of the stunt work themselves. “Most of it really, apart from the horse riding, which we weren’t allowed to do”, he says, casually belying his 68 years. When asked why he wanted to put himself through such a rigorously demanding part, his answer is surprisingly passionate and heartfelt. “How many people are killed in the new Rambo film in the opening half an hour? I think it’s meant to be something like 200. So much of action cinema is like that, and it’s such a shame. The thing about The Colour of Magic is that it’s absolutely as exciting as any big Hollywood action film, but without the gratuitous violence and accessible to anyone. Little ones will love it and so will their parents – it will genuinely entertain a family audience.”
Those still unconvinced should probably be wary about turning to Terry Pratchett for guidance. “We’ll visit them and help them if they don’t like it!” he laughs. “I know what my fanbase is and I’m secure and successful enough not to have to worry when I receive criticism. What I find funny is that when someone at a dinner party tells me that they haven’t read my books, they always seem rather pleased with themselves. The thing is, they then seem a bit disappointed when I tell them, ‘I don’t mind!’ and they can tell I’m being genuine.”
According to Vadim Jean, unfamiliarity with Pratchett’s books is in no way an obstacle to enjoying the film. “Terry’s world is still as original, funny and different as it was when the book was published in 1983. The Colour of Magic is the first book of the Discworld series, so you don’t need any prior knowledge of the books to enjoy the film”.
And what’s next in the team’s sights? “People are going to be surprised by this choice,” says Jean, “but we’re going to do the much more recently published Discworld novel Going Postal. The problem with carrying on with The Colour of Magic where it leaves off is that it all rather depends on Sir David’s availability, and he’s a bit like a Premiership footballer – we can’t always get him on loan from his other commitments”.
Terry Pratchett becomes visibly agitated at talk of this next project, and glares at Jean with almost diabolical glee. “Get Going Postal wrong,” he warns, “and I’ll hunt you down with a gun!” James Machin
The Colour of Magic is on Sky One and Sky One HD this Easter.
Fans can further explore the magic of discworld at Sky One’s dedicated website www.sky.com/magic featuring exclusive cast interviews, downloads and videos.