Friendship and Fantasy
If you find a large mysterious egg on the beach, think twice before bringing it home. That’s one of the messages I took away from The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, a well-filmed fantasy starring Alex Etel, Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin. But the most significant message of this heart-tugging movie deals with the value of friendship, even an inter-species one. It almost feels like a watery version of E.T.
“I’m fascinated by our place on earth and all the other creatures that share it with us and how each affects the lives of the other,” director Jay Russell (My Dog Skip) says. “Because this tale taps into the universal themes of magic and friendship, it applies to anyone of any age.”
With all due respect to Mr. Russell, while his movie focuses on ideas applying to all ages, it’s too intense for very young children. At the screening my husband and I attended, much crying from tiny tots ensued during scenes showing the young hero riding on his sea monster friend while being shot at by British soldiers. However, children age 8 and above seemed to love everything about The Water Horse. How do I know? Simple. I asked as many of them as I could in the lobby after seeing the film.
Alex Etel (Millions) obviously stole these viewers’ hearts as Angus MacMarrow, a lonely little Scottish boy who finds and takes home an unusual egg, then becomes best friend to Crusoe, the strange creature it hatches. Angus misses his father, who went off to fight World War II, and tries to keep his new friend a secret from his mother (Watson). Helping him with this mission are his older sister (Priyanka Xi) and a new handyman (Chaplin). But complications arise as Crusoe grows huge very quickly, becoming impossible to hide. The safest place for Crusoe? The water, of course, which means setting him free in a beautiful local loch -- which gives birth to the Lochness Monster legend. Unfortunately, dangers soon lurk in the loch as a result of wartime efforts, and Angus feels compelled to risk his own life to save Crusoe.
Highlights of The Water Horse include its authentic look and sense of place. “The most important thing was to capture the fact that we were in 1942 Scotland,” explains production designer Tony Burrough (Tuck Everlasting). “It was very important that the world we were creating was totally believable so that the creature, which is obviously fantastical, could also be believable.” Considering this film was shot in New Zealand, it’s amazing how real the setting comes across. Excellent period costumes and manor house details convince us we’re seeing 1940s Scotland on the big screen.
“Crusoe,” however, happens to be a mixed bag. When fully grown, the creature appears quite believable as it frightens fishermen and swims speedily though the loch. But to me, its younger versions could have been more realistic, especially with all the special effects magic available now.
Still, the true magic of The Water Horse emerges from its tender coming-of-age story about the unbreakable bond between a boy and his incredible friend. Fans of movies with imagination, excitement and heart should not miss this one.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and Walden Media; rated “PG” for some action peril, mild language and brief smoking.)