The Good: Elements of the idea? (I’m stretching here!)
The Bad: Acting, Characters, Look, Plot, Pace, VERY BBC!
The Basics: Sitting down to what seemed like it would be an interesting science fiction piece about a man erased from our world and put in another, I was greatly disappointed.
When I was in middle school, my English teacher, Mr. DeFusto, would sit and read to us every Friday. Sure, we were all old enough to read and at that school we were all quite good at it. But Mr. DeFusto thought stories were an important part of the collective psyche and as a result, sometimes books should be shared and read allowed as a communal experience. One of the books he read to us was something by S.E. Hinton (not The Outsiders, something else I don’t remember). I recall one Friday after about a month of chapters, Mr. DeFusto came in with a new book and frowned and said, “Sometimes you start something and it isn’t going anywhere and you need to cut your losses and move on. That book wasn’t getting anywhere and I’ve decided we’re going to go with something more promising.” I recall at the time feeling very offended by that notion; I didn’t give up on things once I started them! Though, to be fair to Mr. DeFusto, I never did hunt down that book to see how it ended. It’s days like today I wish Mr. DeFusto had effectively taught me to cut my losses when something just isn’t panning out. After over three hours, the only thing I was able to give up on with this DVD set was finishing the commentary track.
Every now and then when I am at the library I pick something up on a lark because I read a description and it sounds worthwhile. So, while wandering through the card catalogue of DVDs in the local system, I discovered a set I had never heard of, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I had a friend in college who was a big fan of The Sandman, so I was familiar with the name Neil Gaiman, though I had never actually read or viewed any of his works before. After this experience, I will not go out of my way to again. Yes, A&E suckered me in with a decent blurb, but the experience was nowhere near as good as I might have anticipated.
Richard Meyhew is a businessman in London who is off to dinner with his fiancé one night when he encounters a woman bleeding on the sidewalk in front of them. While his fiancé is content to walk around her, Richard picks her up and takes her back to his flat so she won’t die on the street. The next day, two men come looking for the woman and she seems alarmed that Richard helped her, though she is pleased when Richard sends the two mysterious men away. Unfortunately for Richard, when he goes to work and around London he goes unnoticed and unrecognized by everyone, including his fiancé.
This change in Meyhew leads him to a parallel reality existing below or slightly out of phase with London. It is London Below and there, Meyhew is reuinited with Door, the young woman he rescued, and is introduced to the Marquis de Carabas (a cross between a baron and a bounty hunter with a sense of style that either makes him very much from a fairy tale or very flamboyant), and the Hunter – a powerful woman who, you guessed it, hunts – who takes on the task of protecting the other three. And they need protection because London Below is dangerous, especially for Door who is being hunted by Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, the men who tried to kill her before and seem eager now to succeed where they didn’t.
Yeah, it might sound cool, but it never reaches the level of anything remotely cool. At its best moments, the show becomes less annoying than it initially was (personally The Velvets make it a little better, but that’s just a real juvenile part of me saying that). Instead, the two-disc set, comprising all six episodes of the series, run together as one pointless story that is not engaging, not cool and not even remotely as interesting as the back of the DVD or the Marquis’s outfits would suggest.
The fundamental problem is that this is VERY BBC in terms of the production value. Don’t get me wrong, the BBC has created some amazing works, like Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But anyone who has seen something like Doctor Who or Quatermass (reviewed here!) will know exactly what I mean when I use BBC as a descriptive word. The production values are terrible and there’s a style of shooting that is strangely unique to the BBC. Of course, Neverwhere got off to a rough start in this regard with me as each episode starts with characters talking to camera.
London Below is mostly dark (it’s supposed to be) but London Above (our normal everyday London) never looks good in this production. Indeed, the look of the two worlds is so dissimilar that there are scenes where it is difficult to determine where the action is actually happening. To be fair, once Richard first goes into London Below, most of the action stays there. The problem is it’s not much worth the exploration.
Sure, the argument could be made that London Below is filled with quirky characters, many of whom are magical or immortal, but the problem is the novelty of that wears off rather quickly. The result is a tour of a place where the viewer is simply told much of what they are seeing. There is a Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy film syndrome going on here; LOTS of exposition. It’s setting that is almost universally described to the viewer as opposed to experienced. The result is anything but magical and London Below is supposed to be dangerous, magical and intriguing. The intrigue wears off quickly and we are left with just feelings of boredom.
The problem, fundamentally, is this is a series with almost no plot. Meyhew and Door are hunted, but the show isn’t about much else, except describing the place they are being hunted through. And there are fantastic elements, like the room with the pictures that can lead virtually anywhere, but they are nowhere near as engaging as they ought to be.
The problem continues, then, with the characters. Sure, it’s fine to not care about Meyhew’s fiancé; she’s not in the piece very long and really, who really wants to care about someone who won’t help a woman who is bleeding on the sidewalk? But Meyhew isn’t interesting, Door never becomes much more than her power to open things and the Marquis and Hunter are more disturbing than interesting (the Hunter, for example is androgynous in a very creepy way).
So, lacking characters to empathize with, the show stagnates. You know, the acting is terrible, too. Outside Paterson Joseph as the Marquis de Carabas, everyone looks bored and presents a boring character. Neverwhere’s last chance for salvation is in the acting and it dies on that sword.
On DVD, this two-disc set includes a commentary track from writer Neil Gaiman, but the truth is, I started it and so disliked the source material that I found quickly the commentary track did not help. Similarly, while there is an interview of Gaiman talking about his work, it did not lead to a greater appreciation of Neverwhere. This is one of those ideas that sounds wonderful, but just does not work in its execution. Even the more stark Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Next Phase” (reviewed here!) worked better than this series, which was three times as long! I suppose the main difference there is that episode had a point! This series seems to be all about “Look at this PLACE” and when that underwhelms, the program is sunk.
So, instead of an interesting or engaging fantasy/science fiction story set in alternate universe London, the viewer is treated to a three hour hunt through magical sewers by people who are dressed well but otherwise look bored to be there. Seriously, pass on this one.
For other imaginative worlds in science fiction, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Star Wars Saga
The City Of Lost Children
For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |