Review: Under the Mountain DVD

STUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: Jonathan King | CAST: Sophie McBride, Sam Neill, Oliver Driver, Tom Cameron
RELEASE DATE: 8/10/10 | PRICE: DVD $26.98
BONUSES: commentary, featurette
SPECS: PG-13| 91 min. | Family fantasy | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Riding the wave of book-to-movie adaptations of teen tales of magic, Under the Mountain is based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Maurice Gee. A fun romp in which a privileged pair of twins (Sophie McBride, Tom Cameron) save the world from forces of evil with a little help from special effects and deus ex machine, the family fantasy film does have its flaws.

Under the Mountain’s troubled plot, which probably worked better in the book (or the TV miniseries that it inspired back in the early 1980s), is the real impediment to the movie’s quality. Once the film attains a full head of steam, the plot seems to grind all believability and decent characterization under its wheels.

The two young leads are refreshingly sympathetic despite the rocket pace of their induction into superpowerdom, but Sam Neill, the film’s anchor star, disappointingly phones it in.

Under the Mountain is another entry in New Zealand’s ever-growing filmography, and, as with many movies produced there, the island nation becomes a character in its own right. The camera pans lovingly over the landscape, and people invoke the names of the volcanoes surrounding Aukland with a sense of solemnity that one might sooner associate with magic spells or locations on Middle Earth.

On the topic of Middle Earth, it would seem that whatever Kiwi tourism board that drew up the funding for this film figured to repeat the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy by borrowing from every aspect of those films as liberally as possible. Jackson’s effects company, WETA, is obviously at work here. The film’s improbably named “Wilberforces” resemble LOTR‘s ring wraiths, and the object of Under the Mountain‘s plot is even to toss an ancient artifact into the mouth of a volcano.

Despite the movie’s flaws, the target audience of mean age 11 will enjoy the simplicity and style with which Under the Mountain is pulled off.

The DVD comes with standard features, a commentary and making-of featurette.


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About Alex

Alex Kikuchi loves movies of every size and variety and has fancied himself a film critic ever since Mystery Science Theater made it look so easy when he was a kid in the 1990s.