Monday, November 24, 2008

Into the mouth of death he strode

Some months ago I had the luck to come off the street onto the Moreland Train Station platform while it was filled with children and their associated adult life forms. It was mid-week, and at about nine in the morning; I was on my regular morning commute to work. Well, they were running and cheering and shouting everywhere as children are wont to do, while I huddled down one end of the platform along with all of the other regular commuters. The most common cry was "train! Train!". Also "is the train coming yet?" And "where is the train?" These children certainly were startling conversationalists - about trains.

Eventually, a voice came out over the intercom... announcing that the train was running five minutes late. The children, none too depressed by this announcement, let out a hearty avuncular roar of approval: "Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!", or sounds to that effect.

It was then that I and the rest of the regular commuters decided that children and trains should not be trusted.

Thus it was with some trepidation, dear reader, that yesterday I found myself advancing into the Northland cinemas, for the second week in a row, to buy a ticket to the movie 'Thomas the tank engine and friends: the great discovery'. On the previous week, I had arrived at the cinemas some ten minutes before the movie was due to start and had discovered all the seats in the film sold out, and adult life forms banked up from one corner of the cinema right into the Pancake Parlour, with children tugging at their sleeves and asking anxiously when they were going to see the train.

I say that I advanced there with trepidation: well, terror might be a more adequate description. As luck would have it I arrived just as the ticket booth was opening and managed to get myself one of the first tickets. On walking into the cinemas some minutes later, I discovered it overflowing with children, running all over the place. It was if a movie version of Lord of the Flies had suddenly, and startlingly, manifested itself in real life.

I took a seat somewhere in aisle five and attempted to relax. I say attempted: some child in aisle four was turning and wriggling around as if he could hardly bear to sit any longer. An aisle one adult was flapping disturbing pieces of linen in the air. Another aisle five child was querying their parent about Thomas, and there were sounds of childish distress coming from aisle seven. Possibly tom toms as well, but I think I blocked that out.

Meanwhile, the cinema, in an attempt to calm us all down, was piping generic movie music in, but even this did nothing to quell my rising horror. For one thing, they appeared to be playing an L J Hooker ads instead of music. "Nobody does it better... nobody does it half as good as you!", etc. This was followed, even more disturbingly, by James Bond music. (I had noted previously, and with some disapproval, that this edition of Thomas was narrated by previous Bond star Pierce Brosnan, and not Ringo: they have a Bond movie out at the moment that I have no interest in seeing). Was this some kind of way of subliminally encouraging the children to be supervillains? When the lights went out, I began to feel some anxiety on the part of my mortal soul....

The film itself was just about what you would expect. Forty-five minutes long, with narration, as I have just noted, by Pierce Brosnan, presumably on the assumption that he is universally identified as an Englishman, like Ringo. Never mind the fact that his accent is probably put on: Brosnan is from Ireland, not England. Brosnan also has a disturbingly high voice: I don't know why nobody has noticed it before, but this former 007 is sometimes in danger of squealing.

That charming dramatic creation, The Fat Controller, has been largely retired, and replaced by a Blair Labour Party stooge Thin Controller. The amount of destruction and disaster that Thomas encounters is almost apocalyptic: not only does Thomas go off the tracks - twice, I think - but he also inadvertently causes the collapse of a bridge, a water tower, and falls into a subterranean lake in a disused mine shaft. (It's not long, you suspect, before the British government launches an inquiry into the wasteful practices and questionable health and safety regulations on the Island of Sodor, where Thomas and the rest of the engines are located.)

Aside from Occupational Health and Safety difficulties, Thomas may also need a psychologist. It's rare for a steam rain to have a psychiatric condition, but Thomas becomes startlingly envious and avaricious when introduced to Stanley, a gleaming white engine with a silver smoke stack.

All in all, not a terrible way to spend an hour or so. Yesterday evening I also went to see Excalibur at the Astor, a much more adult affair with knights donging one another all over with maces and all manner of implicit Freudian themes being made, explicitly. But I think the day belonged to Thomas.

You should see it too. Go on. You'll be chuffed!


forlorn said...

this edition of Thomas was narrated by previous Bond star Pierce Brosnan, and not Ringo

The bastards! How could they give Ringo the shove? He has the quintessential English voice.

I think that I've only seen bits of Excalibur. I remember my parents hiring a very Arthurian video in which the explicit Freudian themes were most graphically rendered and that we were all sent to bed when the exposition began.

It is very charming (and unique!) that you are more interested in Thomas than in James.

TimT said...

A clarification is perhaps in order. The later Bond films bore me, but the earlier ones - basically Sean Connery ones - are classics of their kind, and I spent many many fond hours in childhood watching them.

A Thomas movie frankly isn't much chop, but the Thomas franchise seems to have retained much more integrity than the Bond franchise, and it's a relatively rare event - eg, perhaps not fulfilling cinematic fare, but interesting nonetheless.

TimT said...

I agree completely about Ringo. He was an inspired choice for the original program. But maybe he made the break with the Thomas franchise himself?

forlorn said...

Strangely, my sisters and I used to watch the older Bond films in childhood too (perhaps they were regularly scheduled as the Sun afternoon movie when we were young?). I don't know if I'd be particularly fond of them now. Certainly, the misogyny in the books is just horrible.

Yes, I thought that perhaps Ringo had moved on to other pastures myself. I don't know if you've been to England, but one of the striking things, once you travel around the countryside a bit, is the large number of transport museums. English people will even offer you the details of their favourite transport museums, completely unprompted. They are even more passionate about their air museums, of course.

Nick Crumbedprawn said...

My god there's *another* live action Thomas film?

Jeez, and I thought my life was complete after watching The Magic Railroad with Peter Fonda (behaving as if he's just finished his first acting class in his new retirement home) and Alec Baldwin.

I guess if they can make 358 Bond films, there's no crime in 2 Thomas movies.

Unless you watch them of course.

TimT said...

Ha! Embittered, much?

I must admit when I first heard that Brosnan was doing the voiceover I envisaged a bizarre spy-movie-puppet-show combination. Thrilling chase scenes on the British rail lines! The Fat Controller as a criminal mastermind!

No such luck though.

TimT said...

There was of course a brief glorious moment in the history of cinema when you really did get thrilling chase scenes on the trains. Largely before the advent of the car (and therefore car chase sequences). You still get imitation chase sequences on planes, but they're not a good substitute.

I've yet to see a thrilling tram-chase sequence, more's the pity...:(

nailpolishblues said...

Just one little thing that I'm curious about...why did you choose to see this particular movie?

TimT said...

Probably because it was an exclusive - no other cinema had it! Plus I have a lingering affection for Thomas, and have always been interested in kids' books and films.

Even when it's of that patronising 'Barney the Dinosaur' type. (Not that I'd watch a Barney the Dinosaur movie, that would be too much for even me to bear.)

Nick Crumbedprawn said...

There is a thrilling chase scene in The Magic Railroad involving Thomas and Lady (who is a purple chick train) being chased by trhe vile non-coal powered train Diesel (powered by Diesel I'm guessing).

Diesel is eventually undone by his larger size and the crumbling bridge (which is seen to be crumbling earlier in the movie thus setting up the thrilling denouement perfectly).

It was pretty thrilling

nailpolishblues said...

That was a hilarious response to my rude question, thank you.

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