The recent news that Terry Pratchett’s 2003 novel The Wee Free Men is to be adapted for cinema by The Jim Henson Company has been well-received by fans, especially with Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of the man himself, working on the script.
There’s a real possibility that Henson’s can deliver something in the vein of their classic fantasy movies Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, and any production that uses practical effects over endless cheap and obvious CGI is always a plus. The only problem is, Pratchett adaptations have something of a potted history.
There have been several attempts made at bringing Pratchett’s work to the screen. In the 1990s, famed British animation house Cosgrove Hall adapted three of his novels: Truckers, Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters. The adaptations were met with varying levels of acclaim, with Soul Music being the best received. The desire for more fantasy TV then seemed to go out of ITV and Channel 4, and things went quiet for the next nine years.
As a flagship Christmas TV event in 2006, Sky TV teamed with production company The Mob to adapt Hogfather into a two-part feature. The two episodes were screened over the weekend of 17-18 December 2006, and although its’ effects won a technical BAFTA in 2007 critics were indifferent and it was far from well received by fans. Sky followed it up in Easter 2008 with an adaptation of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, featuring David Jason as Rincewind, Sean Astin as Twoflower, Tim Curry as Archchancellor Trymon, Jeremy Irons as Havelock Vetinari and, in a stroke of true genius, Christopher Lee reprising the role of Death from Soul Music. The ensemble cast was praised, but again the adapted script did not meet with great fan or critical acclaim.
The turning point came in May 2010 when Sky and The Mob adapted Going Postal. Although again changes were made, much less material was cut from the book. The cast of Richard Coyle, Claire Foy and David Suchet were great, but it was Charles Dance as Vetinari who really stole the show. Far better received by fans than the previous two adaptations, Sky initially announced plans to adapt Unseen Academicals before shifting their attention to an original series featuring Sam Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. However, since Pratchett’s death last year, no filming date has been announced and it seems that the project is simmering away in development hell.
So, can Henson’s do Discworld justice? At this juncture, it’s difficult to say. However, if anyone has a chance of adapting Terry Pratchett’s works, it’s probably them. It’s almost certain that Henson’s will be using large amounts of practical effects to get the Nac Mac Feegle on screen, rather than the inevitable amount of soulless cheap CGI that other studios would rely on. And anyone who remembers Henson’s work on Farscape will know that they’ve come a long way since the Ninja Turtles movies of the early 90s. The key point is therefore the script itself: can the book be distilled down to less than 2 hours and still keep its intrinsic Pratchett-ness? We’re willing to bet that Rhianna Pratchett is not willing to sell her father short, so here’s hoping.