Stig Of The Dump Review
Just as anyone in the playgrounds of the nineteen-seventies whose movements were, how can be say, somewhat ungainly or whose speech was challenged was called a Joey so anyone who looked a little untidy was a Stig, named after the caveman in Clive King's 1963 children's novel. Of course, this being the seventies, the benefits of regular bathing, of the common application of soap and water and of using a tissue rather than the end of one's sleeves were but mere rumours and so everyone was a bit of a Stig, particularly those of us for whom one or two pairs of trousers had to make do over several growth spurts, of only having one good and one everyday pair of shoes and of wearing t-shirts long after they'd stopped being a fit. Deodorant? Hair products? A clean pair of pants every day? They were as much of the future as tinfoil suits and flying cars!
This version of Stig Of The Dump was produced by the BBC in 2002 and shows how well King's story has survived over the years. It begins with Barney (Thomas Sangster) making his way through a forest near his grandparents' house, where he's spending the summer with his sister Lou. His grandparents (Phyllida Law and Geoffrey Palmer) are letting him explore, knowing that the summer Barney and Lou will live with them will be more exciting if they don't have to spend all their time at the house so with Lou going horse riding with a couple of local girls, Barney tracks his way through the forest. One day, Barney runs into the Snargets, three local boys who get themselves into trouble more often than not and who settle disagreements between them with their fists. Barney disturbs their camp and they give chase, shouting after Barney to tell him that he'll only be their prisoner. Running away, Barney falls into an old quarry. There, at the bottom, is a man who Barney calls Stig, who seems to have arrived in England from 150,000 years ago.
Over that summer, with Barney's mother (Saskia Wickham) leaving for a holiday with her new boyfriend, Barney tries to understand how Stig found himself so far from home. Stig, though, is too busy in his new playground to bother about finding a way back to his own time. Everything that lands in Stig's quarry allows him to build something new, be it a chimney for his house, a wall of coloured glass bottles or a builder's hard hat. But the more Barney gets to know Stig, the more everyone is suspicious of the friendship between the two. With few people other than Barney ever having seen Stig, everyone believes that Stig is yet another of Barney's imaginary friends, not unlike another who lived under the stairs. With more trouble from the Snargets, the police investigating thefts in the area and an order placed against the quarry to have it closed down, Barney has little time to help Stig to find his way back home.
Unlike the book, there is no suggestion in the BBC's Stig Of The Dump that Stig is anything but real. It's set amidst a very modern family with the marriage between Barney and Lou's parents having broken down, their father moved out and, with their mother trying to make a go of something with a new man, their spending a summer with their maternal grandparents. In this, there are good grounds for Stig to be nothing but a figment of Barney's imagination. But this adaptation never takes that route. Instead, Stig is as real as the Snargets, as Lou and, indeed, as Barney and so this features situations, both dramatic and comic, that highlight Barney and Stig's friendship and how the caveman can teach the modern-day boy a little about life.
There is a lot to like about Stig Of The Dump. It does tend to lurch between episodes without ever really explaining the how and the why of things, such as the Snargets, who are really awful in the first two episodes, gradually coming round enough for Barney and Danny Snarget to become good friends. There is also a police investigation and a couple of criminals who will do nothing for the reputation of gypsies even if playing Gypsy Dave gives ex-Brooksider Michael Starke something to do but just
As an adult watching Stig Of The Dump, I found this flip-flopping in its structure somewhat annoying but children seemed to think a lot more highly of it, never allowing the drama to get in the way of a good laugh. For example, the criminals may go stealing from the innocent but they're soon dealt a blow with Stig dangling them over the edge of the quarry, their faces squashed against the glass of their windscreen. Similarly, Nathan's fall down a waterfall might have been more troubling had it not been made funnier by Stig's wearing a snorkel, a pair of bright orange shorts and carrying a makeshift bow-and-arrow. And even Kenny Snarget gets his comeuppance when all the awful things he does to Barney are righted by Stig wrapping him in goal netting and hanging him from a tree behind the football pitch.
As such, Stig Of The Dump shouldn't be taken particularly seriously but this is also the problem with it. It's fun but not much more than that. It could have done much better had it asked more questions about the relationship between Barney and his father or had it not portrayed the police investigation as being utterly useless. But it is, for the most part, very watchable, leavening the drama with comedy and being well-played by Thomas Sangster, Saskia Wickham, Phyllida Law and the always excellent Geoffrey Palmer, who takes to the series with the air of someone taking this as rather a jolly excursion into the countryside for a spot of fishing. Children will enjoy it and it's certainly an enjoyable way to pass a couple of evenings but may not enjoy the same longevity as King's novel.
Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and over six episodes, this is very much a standard 2 Entertain release. The total running time is slightly less than three hours and the picture generally looks very good throughout. There's not a fault on the source material and this has been transferred onto DVD in good shape, with the picture looking clean and detailed and with colour, brightness and sharpness a touch above what it was on its broadcast on television. The DD2.0 audio track is fine and does well both by the music and dialogue and while there's an absence of outright action sequences, save for their dealing with Gypsy Dave and his friend, the DVD still handles things well. Finally, there are English subtitles on all episodes.
There are no extras on this DVD release.