Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Going Postal

Going Postal. Directed by Jon Jones, Written by Bev Doyle & Richard Kurti (Mucked Around With by Terry Pratchett).

Preconceptions: I am a ridiculous fan girl for Discworld and Terry Pratchett and Going Postal is one of my favourites. For those of you who haven't read it, do, but the basic plot (I know I don't normally do plot summaries, but this is hardly a big blockbuster you've all heard about) is that a con man (Moist von Lipwig) is forced to revitalize the post office in a major city (of the unlikely name Anhk Morpork). The post office is probably cursed and the ruler of the city is a tyrant, with the power of life and death over our anti-hero. Moist is helped and hindered by Adora Belle Dearheart, the chain smoking proprietor of the Golem Trust (think a day labour office for giant clay men).

When I heard that Sky was going to do a movie (alright a TV movie) of Going Postal I was ecstatic. While overall it's neat to see the characters I know and love dancing around on TV, I have had some problems with the previous Sky movies. My main issue is that they aren't all that funny and the books are hilarious. The narrator is such a huge part of the comedy of these books, particularly the early ones, that removing narration really strips the jokes. Fortunately, Going Postal is one of the later books so there are lot more non-narrated jokes. The teased cast pictures looked good (though I always pictured Adora Belle as being curvier than Claire Foy). I was all ablaze to see it.

General Review: Still not all that funny. I don't know what it is about the translation from book to movies, but while I liked some things about this movie, it wasn't particularly funny. The lack of laughs wasn't the only problem I had with it.

Oh boy did the Golems suck. I know it's a made for TV movie and I know they had to make a whole pile of them appear on screen at once, but jeez. It wasn't even just that they looked like a bad Doctor Who monster of the week, or the Thing in the (1994 Roger Corman) Fantastic Four movie: they were highly emotional. They sounded a lot more like Marvin the robot than they did proper automatons. They gave world weary sighs!

The thing that bothered me most was how neat the plot was. Going Postal (the book) was a mastery of disconnected plot lines all working separately to come to the finale. Of all the things lost from book to movie this is the one I missed the most (even more than the jokes!). It takes a skillful hand to tie the disparate plot lines into a satisfactory story. This movie just sliced away the unruly threads (Gordian Knot style) and we were left with something a lot more bland and standard. The mass of different plot points also showed off Moist's brilliant mania, his ability to see all of the different events taking place and weave them into one delicious con (I'll stop the thready metaphor now, I promise).

Without the plot to show Moist's charmingly hyperactive brain, it was all on Richard Coyle's acting ability. And here I must pause in my irritated nerd ranting to give some high praise. Richard Coyle was
awesome, he had the frantic energy I loved about Moist. Not only did he capture the character's attitude, but he looked the part, the bland handsomeness that was transformed into something a lot more striking by force of personality.

As you well know I can rarely stomach romance, but Moist and Adora Belle are an exception. Their witty Bogey and Bacall (or Han Solo and Leia for that matter) repartee cut right through my usual objections. It didn't stand up in the movie. The dialogue wasn't as mean, funny or clever. I didn't mind Adora being pushed further along the dominatrix matrix, but she never really seemed to warm to Moist or to trust him under her cutting exterior. By the end of the movie I didn't feel like they were much closer than they had been at the start.

Despite the bad dialogue and plotting, Adora Belle did have one thing going for her: Claire Foy. Much like Coyle's performance, Foy's captured the character and improved the dross she had to work with. In fact, with very few exceptions (like David Suchet as a scenery gnawing Reacher Gilt) the cast was top notch. I was worried about the change of Jeremy Irons for Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari (the ruler of the city). I shouldn't have worried, Dance was a cut above. His delivery of "do not let me detain you" made me clap my hands in delight. I could go on and on about the cast, Ingrid Berdal was wonderfully feral as Angua and Ian Bonar captured Stanley, a man raised by peas. They changed the actor who played Ridcully and I'm beginning to wonder if constant actor changes are a British movie thing or just something that is happening with these movies.

The city still looks great, where the economy of special and practical effects made the Golems look sucky, it worked well in the creation of Ankh Morpork (the unlikely name of the city). Only showing small portions of the streets, rooms in the Palace and post office made it possible for them to make what we did see look good.
Let me be frank, no matter how good or bad Going Postal was, I was going to enjoy it.

From a critical standpoint, I know there were a lot of issues, but seeing characters trotting around and enacting one of my favourite books was just as great as I thought it would be. If you're a fan of the Discworld series and can shut off the angry nerd voice in your head (I had quite a bit of trouble with this, myself) you'll probably get a kick out of Going Postal. If you aren't a fan, I'm sorry to tell you this probably isn't going to get you on the Discworld bandwagon.


  1. Of the Discworld movie adaptations, I found this one to be both the least faithful to the source, and the most enjoyable to watch. Probably have to put this down to the performance of the younger leads, especially that of Richard Coyle.

  2. Yeah, I can understand a bit of the streamlining, but I think it went overboard. Richard Coyle was simply awesome.