Under the Mountain -- Film Review

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Based on a popular fantasy novel by Maurice Gee, this New Zealand entry manages to invoke nearly every genre cliche ever formulated by the lazy mind of man. The plot and basic concept behind the film defy comprehension, and one suspects that both were infinitely clearer in the novel, given the greater expansiveness available to that medium.

It's something about two alien species who, after teaming up, have tromped through the universe since the beginning of time subjugating various peoples, and now it's the turn of the earthlings. All that stands between us and complete destruction are two twins, a boy and a girl, who must learn to trust one another, and a certain Mr. Jones (Sam Neill), the "master of fire" who admits that he is "not of this world."

All of this balderdash is perfectly acceptable in a fantasy film addressed, quite wholesomely, to the whole family. It's the paucity of imagination on display that's the real problem. The monsters are smelly and ultra-slimy, since it was discovered in "Aliens" that slime carried the greatest gross-out power. The twins communicate to each through a strange whisper that is presumably meant to convey that they can read each others' minds. There's an old haunted house -- in fact, a former mortuary! -- that is eerily filled with sounds of heavy breathing, and a frantic adolescent girl runs, many, many times, from a monster with snaky and, yes, slimy, arms. When she goes off to do battle with the aliens, this girl, newly empowered, is earnestly exhorted by her friends to "be careful!"

The acting of the young unknowns is seriously limited, hence the presence of Sam Neill -- who almost manages to make the whole enterprise work -- is a godsend. But this godsend, alas, is a gift smothered by its packaging.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival, Sprockets Family Zone