The Valley of Light



9-11 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 28

I'm not going to say that the Hallmark Hall of Fame original telepic "The Valley of Light" moves slowly, but I did see a couple of tortoises scurrying past that successfully left this movie in the dust. Photosynthesis itself proceeds speedily compared to this period tale based on a novel by Terry Kay that tells the story of a couple of lonely -- but really hot -- young adults who somehow find each other thanks to their mutual longing and their connection to a magical little mute boy.

It's all very ethereal and otherworldly in that everything-is-a-bit-too-pristine-to-be-believed way that is the Hallmark, um, hallmark. "Light" is uncompromisingly wholesome and restores one's faith in mankind if you can make it clear to the end, but given the slovenly pace, this in itself is a significant chore. I'd opt for the SAG Awards telecast myself.

Chris Klein stars as Noah Locke, a kid just returning from serving in World War II in 1946 and who finds things to be pretty darn lousy. His parents have both died. His brother is in prison. And he's homeless. (Hey, but your country is really, really proud of you, dude!) Noah is lost and wandering aimlessly through the rural South when he happens upon a "mysterious stranger" who looks an awful lot like "Hill Street Blues" alumnus Robert Prosky -- perhaps because he is. In this context, however, Prosky is named, uh, Hoke, and he's either a delusion or the spirit who will guide him in the proper direction.

Hoke leads Noah to a weird place called the Valley of Light, where there's a body of water with really huge bass jumping out. It's starting to look a lot like an acid flashback, except the guy has never dropped any LSD. So maybe it's real after all. Certainly, the comely blond widow Eleanor (Gretchen Mol), who lost her husband in the war, is real enough. And just by startling coincidence, she's really lonely, too. Now, if she can only get past her grief, and he over his post-traumatic stress from watching platoon members die, this thing could become a love match.

In fact, it's pretty much inevitable that these two will wind up together. Given that they're in the same demo both physically and emotionally, it's practically a no-brainer. Meanwhile, the way that Noah befriends the mute Matthew (Zach Mills) in such a perfect I'm-your-new-daddy way rounds this into one very sweet and moving story line.

But so languid is the pacing of "Light" (the 229th Hallmark presentation) that the actual hookup is again torturously deliberate. This makes these Hall of Fame excursions very much throwbacks to a different era in more ways than one, to a time before MTV and short attention spans took hold. It's pastoral and sumptuous as all get out. You can see the money and production values up there on the screen. The performances all are especially earnest. Unfortunately, there's more action in the physical act of using the remote than can be uncovered in the film. Maybe I'm simply too shallow to fully appreciate true quality anymore.

Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods.
Executive producer: Richard Welsh
Producer: Andrew Gottlieb
Director: Brent Shields
Teleplay: Camille Thomasson
Based on the novel by: Terry Kay
Director of photography: Eric Van Haren Noman
Production designers: Bill Cruse, Barry Gelber
Costume designer: Ron Leamon
Editor: Tina Hirsch
Music: Jeff Beal
Sound mixer: Douglas Tourtelot
Casting: Molly Lopata
Noah Locke: Chris Klein
Eleanor: Gretchen Mol
Matthew: Zach Mills
Howard: Jay O. Sanders
Taylor: Jeff Perry
Whitlow: Geoff Pierson
Littleberry: Stephen Tobolowsky
Hoke: Robert Prosky