UNDER THE MOUNTAIN
This film remake of Under the Mountain comes from Jonathan King. It was Jonathan Kings second film, following the moderate cult hit of his splatter film Black Sheep (2006), as well as the script for The Tattooist (2007). A modest hit in New Zealand, Under the Mountain played several international festivals but mostly went to dvd. Almost certainly, Jonathan King is one of the generation of New Zealanders who grew up on the tv version of Under the Mountain he would have been fourteen at the time the original tv mini-series aired. One suspects that the reason for the films popularity is not its greatness as a story but something akin to the Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005 ) factor that the chintzy monsters and low production values of the tv version held something alternately thrilling and scary that was an essentially remembered part of some peoples childhoods.
As a film, Under the Mountain emerges onto the screen reasonably well. Jonathan King and co-writer Matthew Grainger have tightened the plot somewhat. All three versions of the story have the essential problem that they are chase stories that involve the twins running around being pursued from location to location by the Wilberforces and are thinly plotted outside of that. Though Under the Mountain is nominally a science-fiction story, Maurice Gee writes it more as though it was a fantasy story where the twins are guided by a wizard figure and must use stones that essentially operate as magic to harness earthpower and defeat the evil goblins. During the early scenes, Jonathan King foreshadows the prominence of the volcanoes in a way that tends to overkill for much of the early part of the film, there is hardly a scene that goes by where we do not have some volcano reference dropped or one seen in the background.
Jonathan King is a principally a horror director. Black Sheep was premised around a series of novelty gore and splatter effects. Similarly, King has conceived Under the Mountain as largely a vehicle for creature and goo effects. These are undeniably accomplished, thanks to Peter Jacksons Weta Workshop. There is the wonderfully ick image of an entire car built with organic insides. One of the films highlights is where one of the Wilberforces invades the house pretending to be a cop, melting through the lock attachment with his tentacle and then Sophie McBride is left hanging off the interior balcony by its tentacle, neatly avoiding it by slipping out of the sleeve of her jacket. Much of the show is stolen by Oliver Drivers performance as Mr Wilberforce where he plays with a ghoulishly gravely intonation as though he really does come from another world. The two actors playing the twins, Tom Cameron and especially Sophie McBride, are well cast.
Jonathan King subsequently went onto make the science-fiction film Realiti (2014) about brainwashing drugs.