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Terry Pratchett first unveiled the Discworld franchise to the world with 1983′s The Color of Magic. Since then the franchise has grown to include 36 novels, as well as video games, maps, science books, live action movies and, what I am looking at today, two animated productions, Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music.
Soul Music is a seven episode mini-series. It, not surprisingly, covers the events of the novel, Soul Music — I haven’t read the novel, but from what I understand, it follows rather closely. Death is bummed out over the death of his adopted daughter and her husband so he decides he wants to forget his pain. Death, unlike mortals, has a rather hard time forgetting things. He remembers everything as if it had just happened. So he sets off into the world in an attempt to learn just how it is humans manage to forget things.
As Death has gone away, his adopted granddaughter, Susan, is tasked with filling his role. She doesn’t have much interest in killing people and, as she can barely remember her grandfather, she doesn’t really know how to perform her duties. But she attempts to muddle through anyway. And while making that attempt she runs across an unusual soul.
That soul belongs to an aspiring musician named Imp Y Celyn (or Buddy). Buddy has always dreamed of being a great musician. He forms a band with a troll and a dwarf, but it isn’t until Buddy gets a mysterious, new guitar that things begin to go well.
The guitar, of course, is no ordinary guitar. The guitar seems to not only play itself, but to impact the whole band and the audience as well. Through the guitar, Buddy brings rock and roll to Ankh-Morpork.
Buddy’s band, Band with Rocks In is an overnight smash. Susan is also drawn to Buddy and when she realizes the guitar will kill him she resolves to go against the rules and save Buddy’s life.
Soul Music does a good job of capturing the humour of Discworld. Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Death, in particular, really shines. It’s too bad that Susan and Buddy’s stories get a lot more air time devoted to them. Not that the other story arcs are bad, it’s just that Death’s is better.
At times, Soul Music feels a little slow but that’s where having numerous interconnected story arcs comes in handy. Whenever things are slow, you get another arc. One of the arcs, however, with the Archchancellor’s researching rock and roll while the Deans take on the roles of rebellious teenagers could have been cut without losing a whole lot of laughs.
On the whole, Soul Music does a great job of bringing Discworld into an animated format.
The Wyrd Sisters takes Macbeth, throws in a little Hamlet and brings it all into the Discworld universe. It’s a great concept, but in execution it is only good.
Duke Felmet has murdered King Verence and seized power. The King is left to haunt the castle while his infant son is spirited off. The son eventually ends up in the hands of three witches. The witches are the titular Wyrd Sisters, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat. The witches take on the responsibility of protecting the king’s son, Tomjon, until he can grow up and overthrow Duke Felmet. There’s also a love story in there between a Fool, a fool who doesn’t enjoy being a fool, and Magrat.
As one would expect, the witches are the central focus of Wyrd Sisters. And unfortunately, the three witches are less interesting and less entertaining than a lot of the other characters. The witches can be funny, but a lot of the time the jokes miss their mark.
Duke Felmet and the Fool provide a lot more entertainment. Duke Felmet, in particular, steals most scenes in which he appears. He’s so terribly ill-suited to lead, and so over-the-top that you can’t help but enjoy his scenes.
The tie-ins to Shakespeare work really well. Macbeth gets the most play, with Duke and Lady Felmet’s story arc mirrors that of the Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. There’s also some Hamlet, with the ghost of King Verence and the use of a play. There’s even a playwright to stand-in for the Bard. Quite amusing.
I think Wyrd Sisters would have worked much better had it been in the same format as Soul Music. Instead of being in 22 minute chunks though, it’s in 2 parts, each a little over an hour in length. Making it worse, on the DVD there’s no way to choose episode one or episode two (apart from going into the chapter menu) so it plays out as a single episode. In this case the running time of 140 minutes is too long for a single sitting.
Wyrd Sisters could have been handled better, but it is still an enjoyable mini-series.
The video is presented in its original format of 1.25:1. The audio is in Dolby Digital. Both the audio and video are of good quality.
It’s pretty apparent that these two DVDs were created separately and have only now been bundled together as some of the special features overlap to a much higher degree than is standard (example: On Soul Music you can find the pilot Welcome to the Discworld. And on Wyrd Sisters you can find about a third of the pilot Welcome to the Discworld).
Interview with Terry Pratchett – This interview runs a little over 30 minutes and talks about his writing, the difference between telling a story through writing and through animation, his critics and a number of other subjects. An engaging interview and one of biggest highlights as far as special features go.
Welcome to the Discworld (complete pilot) – The original pilot for the animated adaptations. It is about 7.5 minutes in length and is adapted from part of Reaper Man. While the pilot was successful, Reaper Man was not adapted.
Storyboards – Some storyboards featuring The Bands with Rocks In’s run-in with the Musician’s Guild in episode three.
Terry Pratchett Bio – A four page text bio on Terry Pratchett.
Character Bios – Brief text bios for the major characters in Soul Music.
Filmographies – A selected listing of works for Christopher Lee, Graham Crowden, Andy Hockley, and Debra Gillett.
Discworld Books – A list of all the Discworld books up to The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.
Terry Pratchet Bio – While Soul Music only had a boring old four page text bio, Wyrd Sisters does it one better with a boring old five page text bio!
Welcome to the Discworld – Exactly like the pilot on Soul Music but it only has the intro explaining the whole giant disc on 4 elephants on a turtle flying through space bit.
Wyrd Sisters Characters – Text bios on the major characters of Wyrd Sisters. While Soul Music had them in a simple list, here a more graphic approach is taken.
Wyrd Sisters Storyboards – A dozen storyboards from various points throughout the series, complete with notes.
Discworld Books – Another list of all the Discworld books, though only up to The Fifth Elephant this time along with a few images of the book covers.
Weblinks – Links to a few websites devoted to Discworld.
Acorn Media – A small text blurb about, yep, you guessed it, Acorn Media.
The extras are somewhat lacking, but Wyrd Sisters is decent and Soul Music is really entertaining. Definitely a worthwhile investment for Terry Pratchett fans.
Acorn Media presents Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Collection. Directed by: Jean Flynn. Starring: Christopher Lee, Graham Crowden, Andy Hockley, Debra Gillet, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, and Annette Crosbie. Running time: 322 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: August 26, 2008. Available at Amazon.com