THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER
One of Jasper Ffordes other series is the one begun with The Last Dragonslayer (2010) and extends to two follow-ups The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011) and The Eye of Zoltar (2014) with a fourth novel projected for some time in 2017. The series concerns teenager Jennifer Strange who lives in an alternate England where magic used to work but has become a weakened force meaning that magicians are only able to gain employ as the equivalent of plumbers and pizza-delivery people. She runs a temp agency for magicians and by a quirk of plotting complications (which are more detailed in the book than the film) is appointed the Last Dragonslayer with the task of killing the last dragon, something she has no desire to do.
The Last Dragonslayer is the first of Jasper Ffordes works to be adapted to the screen. (In an odd trivia note, Fforde had previously worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time writer and has credits mostly as a focus puller on films such as Slaughter High (1985), The Trial (1993), Death Machine (1995), GoldenEye (1995), The Saint (1997), Entrapment (1999) and Quills (2000), among others).
The adaptation of The Last Dragonslayer is something I greatly anticipated as the book is an enormously enjoyable read, filled with Jasper Ffordes dry deadpan wit and appealingly quirky take on the familiar. (It makes an amusingly down to earth counterpoint to the Harry Potter series, for instance). I suppose my disappointment with the finished result can only be compared to the expectations one had of works like Logans Run (1976), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Starship Troopers (1997), The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and I Am Legend (2007) based on reading the original books first and the way the source material ended up being thoroughly trashed by the film adaptation.
Watching The Last Dragonslayer is akin to growing up enjoying home cooking and then going to a restaurant to order or have someone else cook the same meal in adult life. It might technically contain the same ingredients, be called the same thing but the balance of each of the ingredients, the way they have been combined, the length of time the dish has been given in the oven, the way it is served is so off that the two dishes resemble each other only in name. The same thing is at play in The Last Dragonslayer. The film technically has the same ingredients as the book a teenage girl named Jennifer Strange who is appointed the Last Dragonslayer; the prophesied death of the last dragon Maltcassion; much toing and froing over who gets to claim the Dragon Lands following the dissolution of the Dragon Pact; an orphan named Tiger Prawns; the pompous King Snodd and his self-important knight Sir Grifflon; an assistant named Gordon; the Slayer Mobile and hereditary sword; the Kazam agency. It is just that all of these things have been thrown up in the air and rearranged in an order completely different to their placement or context in the book.
Perfect examples of this might include The Great Zambini. In the book, he is the founder of the Kazam Agency. Crucially, he vanished some time before the storys frame starts and makes no appearance throughout. In the film, he appears in the opening scenes played by Andrew Buchan and is the one who recruits Jennifer to join Kazam. He then disappears and wound into the films story is now a big mystery about how to get him back and how Stuffco are involved in some way (clearly set up to be resolved in future instalments). Perhaps the most egregious change is that the Quarkbeast. In the book, this is a fearsome-looking creature with scales and razor-sharp fangs and a habit of eating everything and anything, but in the film merely becomes a cute puppy with the ability to occasionally transform.
Key elements of the book are missing or emphasised all wrong. Much of the first half of the book was taken up with Jennifer knowing and everyone else wanting to find out the date of the dragons death and the king and other interested parties employing devious methods to force her to tell. Here she just tells everybody the date fairly soon into the show. The book opens with a witty scene where the various Kazam magicians magically swap the wiring in a house; here the scene is padded out into something that never happens in the book where this goes disastrously wrong, followed by a lawyer turning up at the doorstep of the agency to sue them. All the jokes about the eccentricity of the Kazam agency the oddities of the other magicians and the appearances from a phantom moose have been written out.
Even worse is the fact that the filmmakers have chosen to set the film in a hyper-realised cartoon world. All of the buildings and villages have a cheerfully unreal quality as though they have been designed for some cartoon series theme park. Added to the film are several scenes where Sir Grifflon pursues Jennifer through the town she is in the Slayermobile and he is in a tank that has been designed with a turret like a battlement and plating like the stone blocks of castle walls. During the midst of the chase, the castle tank goes plowing through an aisle of goods in a Stuffco store for no other reason than it looks daft and the film can get a laugh out of it. In this world, all of the supporting magicians Kazam is only inhabited by two and the others have been written out and the kings guard are bumbling fools that take constant slapstick pratfalls. In other words, what we have is a film that doesnt have a clue what its audience is. Jasper Ffordes books were sold as Adult or Young Adult Fantasy but the film opts for a tone that pitches everything down to childrens television and lets it play out in a Playschool world surrounded by simplistic characterisations that only exist for witless comedy value.