Our review for the 16th, Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”. Imaginative, creepy, and a really good book. A shame I’m reviewing the miniseries.

Production Info

Gary Bakewell …. Richard Oliver Mayhew
Laura Fraser …. Door
Hywel Bennett …. Mr. Croup
Clive Russell …. Mr. Vandemaar
Paterson Joseph …. The Marquis De Carabas
Trevor Peacock …. Old Bailey
Peter Capaldi …. The Angel Islington
Tanya Moodie …. Hunter
Complete info can be found at imdb.com
The DVD release can be found at Amazon.com

Premise

A perfectly ordinary man finds himself drawn into the weird, creepy, and altogether fantastic world that lives in London Below. Along the way he becomes a hero, a hunter, and learns the life lessons that are typical to fantasy of this type.
It’s interesting to note that Gaiman initially didn’t want to write this for fear that he’d make being homeless “cool”. I don’t know what changed his mind (I think I might have read it somewhere, but don’t remember where) but he certainly did – and I’m glad he did. I just wish he’d kept it to a book.

High Point

Mr. Vandemaar. Any time he opens his mouth. Actually, any time he does anything.

Low Point

Hunter. Any time she opens her mouth. Actually, any time she does anything.

Neverwhere is an interesting creature. Almost an entity in its own right by now, it began life as a television miniseries on the BBC. That series is now for sale, and people who drool over Neil Gaiman’s work (like myself) can purchase it and put it up on their bookshelves where they can look at it. That’s because it suffers from all the problems we Americans associate with BBC television, not to mention some pretty crippling issues all its own – primarily acting and certain bits of dialog.
The idea itself is undeniably imaginative and has proven to be an excellent story – I would recommend the book to anyone (and will be reviewing it before long, I’m sure, if for no other reason than to balance this out) and have read it several times, so I won’t belabor (any more) the point that this is not up to the same standards as Gaiman’s usual work.

The Scores

On originality, I really have no idea where to place this. It feels original…exceptionally original. But at the same time there’s this nagging feeling that many of the elements have been lifted straight out of other things. I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt with 5 out of 6.

The effects are…well, they’re lousy. Candles that are supposed to light themselsves “magically” very obviously are being lit by remote charges. The “Great Beast” is very obviously a cow (one of Gaiman’s own complaints). I can’t think of a single effect that didn’t take away from, rather than enhance the story. 1 out of 6.

The story is definitely the strongest part of the whole thing. Of course, this is because it’s Gaiman’s strongest suit as well. It feels continuous and episodic at the same time – it hangs together well as a single narrative, and although each section ends with a significant cliffhanger, that’s not a problem so much as an inducement to watch the next one. 6 out of 6.

The acting is, as I have a tendency to say, uneven. The characters of Mr. Vandemaar, The Marquis de Carabas, and Door were exceptional. I was anxious to see them back on the screen. Richard, Old Bailey, Islington? None of them were bad – but they had their moments where they faltered, and one might suggest that they simply didn’t have enough film to retake particular scenes enough to clean it up. Then comes Hunter. Hunter just ran over my nerves like steel wool on braces. I can’t tell if it was bad directing, horrible acting skills, or simply a bad alignment of the stars, but every time she opened her mouth to speak it was a speech from on high, with rolling r’s aplenty – even to say “Scrrrram!” to a child. To be fair, it felt like she was a stage actress put in front of a camera. There’s definitely a style for one that doesn’t work for the other. 3 out of 6.

The emotional response was minimal – partially because I knew how it would end (having read the book) but mostly because I spent so much time lamenting the desecration of the work. It just goes to show you – it’s not necessarily the adaptation from book TO film that blows some things away. This went in reverse and the film was still so much less. 3 of 6, and that’s almost all for the humor of Vandemaar and Croup.

Ahhh, production. Plague of the BBC. I’ve learned over the last few years that there are many different types of camera and many different types of film that get used in those cameras. I don’t know what each kind is, but I know that the film style found in this (and most BBC productions of similar years) are the same kind of cameras used now for the “up close and personal” portions of most current Reality TV. There’s a certain…untouched quality to the film that almost makes it feel like a home video. Add to that the fact that all the effects stood out so much (something normally touched up in production) and the fact that I swear the sound effect that happened every time Door “opened” something is straight out of the video game WarCraft and I begin to despair. 1 out of 6.

Overall, though, while I am disappointed with the show’s production values, I knew what I was getting into when I sat down to watch it. I had read the book, I had read about the DVD (and it’s various problems) on Neil Gaiman’s weblog, and I was aware. So I did, actually, enjoy it if for no other reason than it gave me another side of the material. That said, I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone not already familiar with the book, and not absolutely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work in some form or another. Still, I give it a 4 out of 6.

In total, Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” recieves 23 out of 42.