Soul Music Review
Young Imp Y Celyn is restless in his home town of Llamedos and is none too fond of following in the footsteps of his father in his building of stone circles. Instead of breaking and moving granite to eke out a living, he dreams of playing music and while his father protests, Imp strums his instrument in the outdoors privy. Leaving home to make his own way in the world, he confronts the beaurocracy of the world when the Musician's Guild prevents him from playing in public, whilst their prohibitive 25 dollar joining fee prevents him from becoming a member. He decides, therefore, to join with two fellow paupers and aspiring musicians, the percussionist troll Lias Bluestone and the horn-playing dwarf Glod Glodsson and together they form The Band With Rocks In who get off to an ignominious start when Lias sits on Imp's harp, breaking it.
Pawning one of his teeth, which are made of diamond, to fund the purchase of a guitar for Imp as a replacement for his harp, Lias gets them a gig in a rundown pub but as Imp avoids an axe that was meant for him, the music in the guitar takes him over and his destiny pins him as the first live-fast-die-young rock star in the Discworld. Soon, the popularity of The Band With Rocks In has their music sweeping the Discworld but Imp is not long for that world. Or at least he wouldn't be if Death had his way but where is he and who has taken Death's place in his all-black outfit and astride his trusty steed? Someone, it seems, who holds a place in her heart for Imp and will not see him die...
...which, of course, implies there is no room for Isaac Hayes, Stax Records, Motown nor the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown in Soul Music. I can, then, assume that I am the only person in here to have made that connection because, being honest, the sight of Death and not, for example, Marvin Gaye came as something of a surprise on opening the package that contained this disc. In the short journey from there to the DVD player, I had to confront something that had, for many years, prevented me from reading Pratchett.
Reading back over what follows, it would be a reviewer's dream to have an anonymous identity to hid behind, a kind of Alan Smithee for DVD Times, where we could admit things that we'd rather not put our name against. But no matter...billed as a Douglas Adams for the fantasy set, I first read Pratchett when an extract from one of his books was published in White Dwarf magazine. Bought twice before realising that I wasn't that much of an RPG-nut, although it took a visit to a Games Workshop to realise the full horrors of the roleplaying world, I had Pratchett pinned as something that, like painting lead figures of orcs, one shouldn't go near. Indeed, in the years that followed, I've read more by Rhianna Pratchett, the games journalist and budding fantasy author, than anything by her father but what Soul Music does is to hint to this sceptic that there might well be substance behind Pratchett's reputation and that to dismiss it as being part of parcel of the RPG scene might well have been a wrong call on my adolescent self.
Of course, it helps that, barring the occasional replaying of a Fighting Fantasy book or a computer RPG, I've largely left that world behind, able, then, to approach Soul Music with an open mind. Coming to it as someone new to Terry Pratchett, it doesn't only work as an animation series on its own terms but also that it hints at there being enough material in the novel, equally as good but unused, to suggest that it might well be worth reading. Of course, given that this show is designed to appeal to those unfamiliar with Pratchett's work, Soul Music does tend to skip over the background to the story, not, therefore, presenting Death as a character with a certain history in the Discworld but as a figure who, apparently on a whim, slumps into a saddeningly philosophical mood and leaves his library of lives and hourglasses behind in favour of the foreign legion and to forgetting himself.
In terms of the story, it is, unsurprisingly, a satire on popular music, with The Band With Rocks In being a tale that's much too common in rock history, being that of a band prepared to do almost anything in pursuit of fame, money and the recording of great music. Within the three hours of Soul Music, Imp, Lias and Glod, who choose the noms de rock of Buddy, Cliff and, er, Glod, positively stride through rock's back pages, beginning with rock'n'roll before taking in Beatle-ish pop at the Cavern, psychedelia in Quirm, a spoof of The Blues Brothers and a free concert in Hide Park with, sadly, no reading of Shelley nor the setting free of a box full of butterflies. In particular, the post-concert meet'n'greet in Quirm reveals the knowing pop knowledge of Soul Music, with the mayor of the city, which is famous for its dairy products, gritting his teeth through Buddy's pronouncing of his band being more popular than cheeses. Similarly, the actual music is a rather fine pastiche of various musical eras with the psychedelic set, complete with oil light show, being a highlight.
And yet, even for a newcomer, it's easy to see why Death has remained so consistent a character in the books, with Christopher Lee giving the character a dumb weariness, capable of doing remarkably stupid things whilst having the kind of fatigue that must come with great power. Even when faced with the idiocy of the Foreign Legion - a place to forget, they say, which would explain why they appear to have forgotten everything, even to who they are - Death never loses his temper, which is surely due to the gravitas and experience that Christopher Lee brings to the role. It would appear that his disappearance is somehow related to the death of his adopted daughter Ysabel and her husband Mort and although his role in the Discworld is less-than-capably filled by Susan Sto Helit, he's never far from the action, even to appearing on a motorbike to resolve the story when it appears that Buddy has gone the way of Morrison, Bolan, Hendrix and Holly, albeit with a touch of The Italian Job.
It's that final part that reminds this viewer of the peculiar Britishness to Soul Music, similar to the use of towels in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and goes some way to explaining the popularity of the Discworld novels. There is enough hinted at in this series to suggest that there is a lot of material in the book that is the equal of that which made into this, with, I suspect, much rock spoofery that got lost between page and screen. With a look that appears to have been inspired by Ralph Bakshi's Lord Of The Rings - many of the older, bearded characters bear quite a resemblance to Bakshi's Gandalf - this isn't bad but it isn't enough to justify the huge following that Terry Pratchett has, which leads this viewer to think that the books are the better medium with which to become familiar with his work. White Dwarf be damned, Soul Music, the novel, may be worth a purchase.
Whilst playing, this isn't a bad transfer but pausing the picture reveals jagged lines in the artwork and some obvious noise around the edges of the animated characters. That said, the colours are good, it's largely what you should expect had you watched it during its original broadcast on Channel 4 and it's reasonably sharp but, equally, there's very little to get excited about. The same can be said for the stereo soundtrack that accompanies it, which often loses the dialogue behind the music and, in particular, Buddy's guitar. Finally, there are no subtitles.
An Interview with Terry Pratchett (31m16s): Interviewed in 1997, this features the author sat in an anonymous office discussing writing in general before going on to compliment this adaptation of Soul Music without ever really suggesting any background friction during its production. Such a thing over thirty minutes would doubtless become tiring so Pratchett drifts down various Discworld cul-de-sacs, taking in his imagining of the adaptations of his work, a Discworld movie, the music written for Soul Music and the ups and downs of his stock across the world.
Welcome to the Discworld: The Complete Pilot (7m35s): Popping up throughout Soul Music are various CG-animated moments that illustrate the Discworld sat atop A'Tuin and this introduction to Pratchett's world begins with that same sequence before cutting to Death's house and more traditional animation. What follows hints at there being a great back story to Soul Music, which fans of the novels will already know much about, but in terms of some consistency, this doesn't really do very much to explain it all. Thankfully, Cosgrove Hall seem to have realised this during the making of Soul Music and having got something of a grasp on it during the watching of this series, this pilot felt unnecessary.
Storyboards: Taken from the third episode of the show, these images show Susan protecting the band from the Musicians' Guild and suggest that the finished animation wasn't much more than a cleaned-up version of the storyboards, which, unsurprisingly, given Cosgrove Hall's reputation, are detailed and well drawn.
Finally, there are many, many pages of text offering various facts and figures behind the show, including biographies of Terry Pratchett, selected members of the cast (Christopher Lee, Graham Crowden, Andy Hockley and Debra Gillett), selected characters (Susan, Imp Y Celyn, Lias Bluestone, Glod Glodson, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Mustrum Ridcully and Death) and a list of Discworld novels.
For anyone who feels shortchanged by this review, I take pleasure in directing you towards Bex's review of Soul Music, from the original release of the disc. For this re-release, Soul Music was accompanied by Wyrd Sisters as well as a bonus book but given the nature of review copies, we only received Soul Music. Whilst writing this, I'll admit to feeling that it was somehow redundant but given the guilt that comes with accepting review copies and not actually writing them up, I prefer a clean conscience than an free evening or two.
Regarding the disc, though, I suspect that for fans of Pratchett's work it is largely something they can ignore. Unlike, for example, the Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings adaptations, which have appeared in order, Soul Music looks to have been plucked out of the Discworld novels with no particular reason. Whilst it may be exciting to see Death on the screen, particularly to hear him speak with the voice of Christopher Lee, it doesn't feel anything more than satisfactory. Granted that the music is often very good and the gags around rock's history are occasionally excellent but that it didn't appear in order nor that Cosgrove Hall have the rights to all of the Discworld novels implies that although it might be a treat for fans, they'd be better sticking to the novels for a more consistent set of thrills.
Of this actual release, some sites list it as being deleted, which it may have been, but I've only listed those who appear to still have it in stock. Play have been included as they list it as being available once again on the 6th February 2006.