May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The 10th Kingdom by Kathryn Wesley   Harper Collins Entertainment Paperback 430 pages ISBN 0-00-710265-8 £6:99 

The 10th Kingdom is a modern-day fairy tale. Well, at least it begins in Manhattan for its waitress heroine Virginia Lewis and her feckless janitor father Tony. The main thrust of the story concerns their transportation via a magic mirror to the fairy tale Nine Kingdoms to rescue the throne of Prince Wendell from the evil machinations of the Queen his wicked step-mother who is bent on destroying the House of White (yes, Snow White). The Queen had been released from the Snow White Memorial Prison by three gormless trolls: Blabberwort, Bluebell and Burly. (These trolls all share a shoe fetish and are particularly fond of the music of the Bee Gees.) The Queen had then used her magic to transform Prince Wendell into the shape of her dog (with the Queen's dog correspondingly changed into the shape of the Prince). But the dog Prince escaped via the mirror into New York's Central Park hotly pursued by the trolls and Wolf (half man-half wolf) who is also in the service of the Queen.

Wolf promptly falls in love with Virginia and is torn between making a meal of her and making love to her. The early scenes in New York when he has a session (by mistake) with a psychiatrist and tries to cook Virginia's grandmother are hilarious. So too are the scenes where Tony eats Wolf's magic bean that grants him three wishes. His employers become his slaves, his refrigerator delivers bottles of coke non-stop, his vacuum cleaner cannot stop cleaning his apartment to the extent of eating his drapes and a bag of $1 million is left outside his door. But the police think he has stolen it and chase him across Central Park together with Virginia, the trolls, Prince and Wolf. They all pass through the mirror and back into Snow White Memorial Prison.

The story then takes in the escape from the prison, and the quest to thwart the evil Queen's plans although, at first, Tony and Virginia are only keen to get back home. Their adventures through the fantasy worlds of the Nine Kingdoms are a colourful mix of adventure and comedy. On their way they meet many of the characters and places made familiar in so many nursery stories and the implicit horrors behind so many of them are manifested here. There is a magic fish that allows its captors to turn the first thing they touch to gold, there is the huntsman determined to track down and kill Virginia. There is the magic spell that makes Virginia's hair grow and grow and grow until Rapunzel-like she can let it down over some sixty feet of tree-trunk to allow her to be rescued from the Huntsman. There is the Little Lamb Village with the sexy Sally Peep who declares of Wolf, "I'd be scared you'd come into my house and huff and puff and blow my clothes off."

The 10th Kingdom has been compared with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. There is no comparison; Tolkien's work was a 20th century literary masterpiece. This is superficial unevenly inspired entertainment in comparison. Having said that it develops its intriguing idea quite well so that one's interest is sustained throughout. Indeed, it is difficult to put this book down and adult readers may well have a sense of guilt about being ensnared by so much twaddle. The writing is racy and narrative-led. Characterisation and character development is generally good sometimes excellent, especially that of Wolf.

Author Kathryn Wesley apparently is the pen name of two best selling authors who "live in the magical kingdom of the Oregon Coast with seven cats".


Ian Lace

The Video Review

The 10th Kingdom - The entire series on three tapes plus The Making of The
10th Kingdom
WARNER Vision International 8573-82728-3 [7½hrs +]

The 10th Kingdom - the whole mini-series comes in a handsome box presentation, that

comprises three videos, splitting 7½ hours of programming to place two episodes on each of the first two tapes and the final episode plus "The Making of the 10th Kingdom" on te third.

Here in the United Kingdom, the mini-series was screened in five 2-hour episodes (including of course commercial breaks), on SKY One, which is a satellite channel and therefore cannot command such a huge audience as the popular five terrestrial channels. My guess is that The 10th Kingdom will make a re-appearance on one of these channels before long to catch a larger audience.

Clearly with such a pacing, the directors had the opportunity to capture fully the essence of the book and this is one of those rare occasions when one is delighted to report that not only are all the events covered but practically all of the dialogue too. In fact the screen version improves upon the book. Which brings one to a rather vexed question. The book's authors have written under a combined pen name as Kathryn Wesley, yet the video makes no reference to an adaptation from this book but claims that the writer is Simon Moore who is credited as such in the documentary of the making of the programme. Is Simon Moore, Simon Moore? Is Simon Moore one half of Kathryn Wesley? Which came first the video or the novel? Intriguing!

No matter, this mini-series is likely to appeal to all ages. With few exceptions (see below) forget the acting, concentrate on the concept. The story is magical; the pace, fast moving; and the special effects, jaw-dropping - particularly the opening credits sequence in which New York is transformed into the fairyland of The Nine Kingdoms. The sets and costumes are all lavish - take the sumptuous climactic ballroom scene for instance. The fascinating documentary details all the many American and European locations in which the mini-series was filmed and the immense pains the production team took - including lugging up the dead dragon's skeleton, that forms the entrance to the dwarves mirror mines, high up into the Austrian mountains.

Fairyland is brutal as we can all recall from our childhood. Who did not hide their eyes when Disney's wicked witch appeared before Snow White? Directors, David Carson and Herbert Wise, astutely point up the underlying psychological elements in the story particularly the parallel in the relationship between Virginia and her mother, and Snow White and her step-mother. If I was asked which actor had made the biggest impression and who might go on to bigger things from this film, then I have to say it must be Scott Cohen as Wolf. But then his, is the most appealing and strongest character in the story although Cohen cleverly uses an array of subtle wolf-like mannerisms to deepen his portrayal. Ann-Margaret makes an impact in her small role as a 200 year-old Cinderella. Rutger Hauer dons his well-worn sinister garb as The Huntsman. Diane Wiest is, perhaps, too nice to be a really chilling Queen; yet she shows the vulnerability of her character (who has lost her soul) well enough. A number of well known British character actors pass through the story including Robert Hardy who plays a suspicious courtier sniffing out the Queen's diabolical plot.

To Anne Dudley's music, as featured in the film. I saw the videos some weeks after listening to the CD and my revised comments are added to my original review that appears again below. I would just add that some material is repeated ad nauseum especially the sinister synth figure used to signal anything menacing that is about to occur. This uses the leitmotif technique in quite the wrong way with no subtly, no shading and really shows up the inadequacies and severe limitations of synth scoring.

Daft but utterly compelling viewing, I loved every minute of it

Ian Lace

Anne DUDLEY The 10th Kingdom  OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD 6115 [54:12]

Yes, we're including this review again, repeating it from last month but now that I have had a chance to see the mini-series, I can appreciate the music more as music for the film. In this it succeeds rather well in supporting action, creating the magical or threatening atmospheres and filling out characterisations but my principal observations remain unaffected.

Anne Dudley fashions a broad romantic score putting some new spin on all the treasured clichés the genre demands: romantic yearnings, magical little bells/stardust awe and wonder material, brooding, eerie atmospherics, comic, rumbustous stuff and of course the nasty menacing monsters music - seasoned with the magical or menacing synths.

The opening cue, `The 4 Who Saved Nine Kingdoms' captures all the score's essence, a broad romantic bit of a theme (I'll elaborate on this remark later) frog-croaking-like electronic antics and swirling eerie evil troll-like menaces. I will not go into detail about the rather repetitive score but just select one or two of the more interesting cues on which to comment. `Six Glorious Wishes' is great galumphing fun with xylophone and woodwinds and percussion enjoying a merry, swaggering ride. `Addicted to Magic' is sheer sparkling enchantment with a hint of a modern beat and agitated tremolandos and glissandi all adding to a rich, magical cue. `A Stepmother's Curse' is a vivid devil's kitchen of a concoction with what sound like pots and pans being bashed about amongst swirling mists and witches howlings; scary, scary (not for little one's ears!).

Generally speaking Anne Dudley's score is big on atmosphere and characterisation. However, unlike George Fenton in similar Ever After mode, she cannot spin out a memorable melody; all we get is some meanderings around material that could and should comprise a melody. If Dudley can hone this facility for writing a truly memorable melody she could have a great future.


Ian Lace



Ian Lace


Reviews from previous months

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