Soul Music Review
Adapted from the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel of the same name, this animated series was developed by Cosgrove Hall (the guys behind Danger Mouse, Chorlton and the Wheelies and Duckula to name but a few) and shown by Channel 4. It tells many tales and is based in Pratchett's most famous city, Ankh-Morpork. The main story deals with Buddy (real name: Imp y Celyn), a young bard who has come to the city to make his name in music. After a run in with the Musician’s Guild, Buddy befriends fellow musicians Glod Gloddson (dwarf) and Cliff (real name: Lias Bluestone - troll). A few mishaps later, they form a band, 'The Band with Rocks In', so named because Cliff plays rocks – and a nod of the head to rock'n'roll. After breaking Imp's precious harp, the trio visit a 'mystical' shop where they buy a guitar for Buddy to play. The story then follows the band as they increase in popularity and let the music loose on Ankh-Morpork. Another storyline follows Susan, very sensible granddaughter of Death who has to come to terms with her family heritage when Death goes off on a mission to try and forget (specifically the death of his daughter and her husband, Mort). Susan has to take Death's place, with the help of his white steed (Binky), a talking raven and the Death of Rats, and, in doing so, she also becomes involved in Buddy’s life and gets to meet the Wizards.
Soul Music is a classic Pratchett novel, full of puns, jokes, ageing Wizards acting inappropriately, and a pretty decent plot. The adaptation works fairly well, the plot is coherent and many of the jokes remain intact, even though some are lost for narrative ease. Of course, I should mention the songs in the disk, mainly because they’ve all had to be written for this version of the tale – they fit perfectly and take the viewer through a history of popular music with their homages to well-loved bands, such as the Beatles. Characters mostly look as you expect them to and the voice cast is excellent, including Christopher Lee as Death.
If you are a Pratchett fan, as I fully admit to being, there is also a certain excitement at seeing the man's works brought to any screen, small or large and this often overrides any criticism of tweaks to either the storyline or changes in how you imagine the characters. For non-Pratchett fans the story is funny, well told and explained so that you need no previous knowledge of this book or any other and this is a particular strength of the adaptation. Another bonus is what you see behind the menu and at the beginning of each episode, a loving CGI re-creation of A'Tuin (a giant tortoise, who, on the backs of four elephants carries the Discworld across space). It's gorgeous, but after this introduction, animation returns to a more familiar Cosgrove Hall style, which is much more sustainable too.
So, that's the good part... on the down side, because it was serialised and because they obviously didn't think to make any changes for the DVD you have to play each episode in turn – there is no option to just stream them all together. Because of this you end up getting the plot summary beginnings of each episode, which gets tiring after a while. The menu is nothing special, mainly text, with the CGI A'Tuin in the background.
As you might expect from a cartoon, the DVD transfer is good. Colours are sharp and have as much depth as you could hope for in this medium. There’s nothing pushing the boundaries here, but nothing to detract from the enjoyment either.
The sound is adequate, with a Dolby Digital transfer that gives clear voices over the background music that often plays a part in scene transitions. There are a few moments where voices aren't as separate from the music as they might be, but overall there’s nothing to ruin enjoyment of the animation and storyline.
An Interview with Terry Pratchett - where he likens his style of writing a book to writing a movie and gives a very interesting insight into the process of bringing the novel to animation. He also discusses Discworld and writing in a more general manner and the interview, lasting just over 30 minutes, is a definite good addition to the disk.
Welcome to the Discworld: The Complete Pilot – This gives a lot more insight into Discworld (including the approved pronounciation of A'Tuin). It begins with an introduction to the Discworld, narrated to the CGI animation of A'Tuin, and explaining his place in the universe and more about the universe itself, much of which is taken directly from Pratchett’s books. Then we are shown Death's House (the animation here is a little more 'dark' than the final version) and see that Death's hourglass is running out. There is talk amongst some strange types (the auditors, if you know the books) about replacing Death and Death seems to realise this himself. These are scenes taken from 'Reaper Man' showing perhaps another story Cosgrove Hall would like to have tackled (apparently the ones chosen were the easiest to work around rights issues for, because certain film rights that had already been sold included animation clauses). The narrator returns to tell of Death's sacking and the sudden increase in zombies and then the pilot is over, 10 minutes after it began.
Storyboards – Taken from episode 3, they show a bar scene with the band playing and Susan in the background trying to save Buddy from a beating.
Terry Pratchett Bio – Nothing very exciting in this brief textual biography of the author, but it's nice to have it included as there are similar clippets in the Discworld novels.
Character Bios – Gives details of 7 of the characters (Susan, Imp, Lias, Glod, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Ridcully, and Death). They are textual and only give details of the characters that can be found in Soul Music. I think perhaps they could have enhanced this feature by adding further information about the characters, or by adding more characters, but it's sufficient for what it’s trying to do.
Filmographies – Details the filmographies of four of the actors used to voice the characters (Christopher Lee, Graham Crowden, Andy Hockley, and Debra Gillett). Again, it would have been nice to have more in this section, or to at least tell you more about which actors played which parts outside of these four.
Discworld Books – Another text section, listing all the Discworld books to date – it's very comprehensive and even includes the latest two books, only published in Oct/Nov 2001.
It's a very nicely put together disc, the story and the animation are great, the soundtrack an amazing addition to the story. The features aren't particularly impressive, but the inclusion of the interview and pilot are at least nods in the right direction. It's fairly essential viewing for fans of Pratchett and the Discworld and those with no knowledge of either can enjoy a fun story, full of humour, told and animated well. It also serves as a good introduction to the Discworld and Pratchett's genre of writing. The worst thing about the disc is having to play each episode in turn and get the summaries at the start of each, but if you can bear that, it's worth buying.