The Water Horse Review

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by Simon Crust Jul 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

    The Water Horse Review
    Of all the mysterious monster sightings throughout the world, one of the most popular must be Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. Significant in that the most well known photo of the creature has been proven a forgery yet still the legend survives, despite all evidence to the contrary. There is something almost tangible about it, if you've ever stood on the shores of the Loch, then you will understand that feeling; the whole place exudes mystery. I find it fascinating that the myth upon which the legend was born (that of the malevolent kelpie) bares little or no resemblance to the interpreted 'creature'; one of a kind beast, friendly almost. Such a transformation has been the inspiration for countless stories whether written or pictured. And tonight's feature is little different in that regard, for the beast in The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, is once again a magical creature, a companion and protector, set to the backdrop of the turmoil created by the Second World War to a small family unit living near the shores of Scotland's Loch Ness.

    Our story starts with two tourists discussing the relative merits of the 'Surgeon's photo', the most famous picture of Nessie, now proven to be a fake, when a kindly old gentleman offers to tell them the history of the picture and why it was faked. Set in flashback we are transported back in time to the middle of the WWII, more specifically to one Angus MacMorrow, a young boy both enthralled and terrified of the water. He has a gapping hole in his life, his father, whom he hero-worships, is away serving in the Navy, leaving Angus as the 'man of the house' a responsibility he is unable to burden so he pines away his time having none of the fun a child of his age should be having. Angus is played by Alex Etel fresh from his excellent turn in Danny Boyle's fantastic Millions, and once again here he puts in an amazing performance. At once vulnerable and terrified yet showing an inner strength and determination; his loyalty and trust shine through. It's not quite fair to say the film rests on his little shoulders, but a huge portion of it does, it's through his eyes that we interpret what is going on, the wonder and fear, the love and sorrow, Etel nails it every time. Upon finding an odd rock on the shore Angus takes it back to his father shed. Turns out the rock is, in fact, an egg and from it hatches the titular Water Horse, a fabled creature of supposed magical qualities, and Angus fills the void in his life to care for the fledgling creature. It is fair to say that this section of the film makes up the vast majority of the storyline and where the heart really lies. Named Crusoe the Water Horse is a master of animation, and it, along with Etel carry the film neatly together.

    Angus is part of a small, but well off, family unit comprising of his mother Anne and sister Kirstie played by Emily Watson and Priyanka Xi respectively. The unit whole is suffering due to the father figure being away, but made worse as these two know the fate that has already befallen him. Both put on a brave face for Angus, but equally suffer their own demons. The chemistry between Xi and Etel is wonderful though especially considering their age and experience. The family is put under further stress when a regiment of soldiers turn up under the command of Capt. Hamilton (David Morrissey) whose orders are to guard the Loch against German submarines. Hamilton takes a shine to the lady of the house, mistakenly thinking that his rank would carry favour, however his men have rather less respect considering their mission is somewhat futile despite Hamilton's assertion they are on the 'front line'. Morrissey plays Hamilton somewhat blustering, almost buffoonish, his hack attempts to integrate himself into the family unit as some sort of surrogate father figure, whilst possibly laudable is at odds with what the they actually want; which is stability. I did like the way Morrissey played this part of the character, however towards the climax whilst in keeping the nature of the film I felt the character switched loyalties and become the weaker link.

    The last main character of handyman Lewis Mowbray played by Ben Chaplin is a far more likable character, his position immediately places him within the family and his discovery and knowledge of the Water Horse ingratiates him with Angus and by inference his sister, all seeing the mother as the 'bad' figure. This conspiracy really draws the younger audience in, this along with the fantasy elements making this clearly a family orientated film. The themes of coming of age and family struggles are therefore easy to palette and it becomes eminently watchable.

    Director Jay Russell juggles these elements skilfully and would itself make a terrific little film, but where the film really lands on its feet is with the magic supplied by Crusoe and Angus' struggling to cope his feelings of insecurity, loss, love and nurture for a creature that needs to be free. Handled with care and consideration Russell plays the heart strings just right, a tug here a tug there and produces a wonderful symphony. Ably helped by Oliver Stapleton's magnificent cinematography, with each landscape scene coming across as an advert for a holiday in Scotland, there is a real sense of 'being there'. Weta workshop one again prove their worth by supplying the effects for Crusoe, and if you think Gollum was good, you haven't seen anything yet. Using a combination of blue screen, real models and new software there was only one point where the CG betrayed itself, otherwise this was utterly believable; in no small part due to the interaction of the water line, a combination of real water and computer simulation.

    Anything negative to say? Well, I felt the story told in retrospect was rather unnecessary, and at times the stroy relied a little too much on contrivance, but these are small niggles in an otherwise terrific film and one that deserves a wider audience than it received at the cinema.

    The Rundown

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