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Friday, December 28, 2007

The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep

My perfect husband has a sister who was born with webbed feet like a duck. It screwed her chances of ever making it big in ballet class, but she killed in swim club during high school. That was until all the other district schools got together and had the coaches draft a petition to have her kicked out of inter-mural competitions on the grounds that she had an unfair advantage. That was twenty five years ago and I still don’t think she has gotten over it. I mean, it’s not like she has feathers or anything, at least none I’ve ever seen. It was just her feet (and they aren’t all that gross except for the little ducky toenail claws at the end of each web). Why she insists on wearing sandals to family reunions is beyond me. I think it’s just her passive/aggressive qualities at play. Frankly, we’d all be happier if she just work combat boots and let us forget about her feet for once.

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m just like most people, and people just automatically object to whatever it is they don’t understand. That is definitely the case with my sister-in-law, aka Aquagirl, and it is the same with the title character in The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep. The Waterhorse is actually a cute little guppy of a thing when we first meet him, hatched from an egg found on the rocky beach of a loch in rural Scotland back in 1941 by a lad named Angus MacMurrow (Alex Etel; Millions) . Angus is the son of Anne MacMurrow (Emily Watson; Miss Potter), the head housekeeper of a spacious estate by the loch. Anne has a lot of responsibility and a lot of heartache behind her beautiful blue eyes. In addition to maintaining the house and governing the staff while the owner of the castle is away serving in the war, she is also carrying the knowledge that her own husband’s ship has sunk with all aboard and that he will not be returning to her and the children as he promised them before going off to join the Royal Navy. Both Angus and his older sister Kirsten (Priyanka Xi in her debut) live day-to-day counting down to their father’s eminent return, but Anne hasn’t the heart to tell them the painful truth.

You’d think she would welcome the fact that Angus finally seems preoccupied with something other than plotting the Nazi troop movements throughout Europe and staring daily at pictures of his long-lost father, but before Anne can even notice her son’s new predilection for coming in the main
house soaked from head to toe, she has to contend with a battalion of soldiers who arrive unexpectedly with the expectation of taking over residence of the manor house and the grounds as an important observation point from which to search for Nazi submarine movements out at sea. If I was Anne I’d be suspicious of any Army commander who pulled that one on me. I can’t begin to tell you how many boys tried to take me to the lake in their cars back in our high school days to supposedly look at submarine races, if you know what I mean. But, poor Anne, so desperate for a little male attention, and afraid of what the Master of the House might say should she refuse, acquiesces gracefully. Don’t you just hate when these uninvited battalions show up for dinner and all you’ve got is Ramen™ noodles in the cupboard? Well, at least this one brought their own cook (Edward Newborn; Kidnapped), complete with his jowly bulldog Churchill.

With all this rigmarole going on hardly anybody notices Angus, well, anybody except the new handyman, Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin; Two Weeks), a handsome enough fellow who has just returned from the war himself. Lewis quickly becomes the children’s confidante and a protector of the waterhorse Angus has been keeping in a tub in his father’s old workshop. The funny thing about waterhorses though is that they seem to grow exponentially with every meal they eat. In no time, Crusoe, as Angus comes to call him, grows beyond both the guest bathtub upstairs and the fountain out front, and so Lewis and Angus have no choice but to take Crusoe and release him into the loch.

That’s when things get dicey, but I’ll leave the rest for you to see for yourself. It’s only when Crusoe enters the loch that the real adventure begins, and it results in the building of new bonds and the severing of old, all mixed in with an eventual dose of growing up for young Angus, who must come to the painful realization that once his waterhorse is set free, he may never be seen again, and then the harder truth that his father is never coming home again.

The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep is a lovely family movie, without too much violence, though it may be a bit intense for smaller children. I’m far from a small child and even I found myself on the edge of my seat a few times because of the tension caused during some close calls for Crusoe and Angus. There’s really nothing more frightening and certainly not nearly as gory as you might find in an Indiana Jones movie, but that might act as a guide for any parents out there.

I quite liked
The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep even though they sneakily substituted New Zealand for the verdant hills of Scotland through most of the picture. I hate when filmmakers pull that, but I suppose it is all a matter of money and the time of the year you are making the movie. Of course, the obvious is left until halfway through the movie when ~ way overdue ~ somebody finally calls the loch by name and we can all smile knowingly as, yes, this is the story of our well-known “Nessie”, the famous Loch Ness monster, though by now we know he is hardly a monster any more than a cuddly little puppy.

The biggest kudos must go to the hundred or so people who worked on the special effects for this film. They did an incredible job in creating Crusoe and making him a believable, lovable, and “real” beast you can care about and not once think about whether he is a puppet or CGI creature. His every movement causes his skin to wrinkle or bend fluidly as you would expect, and when we see him running or eating, swimming or fighting, there is not an ounce of fakery or trickery that can be detected. I actually found myself wanting a waterhorse of my own by the picture’s end. At least he doesn’t shed (and his “feet” are more like a seal’s sleek flippers than a duck’s clawed webs.

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