The Water Horse: Legend Of The Deep is a deceptive movie. Jay Russell's turn to make a fantasy film is not only fascinatingly original, it is also one of the few book adaptations that has more heart than CGI. Given that the movie is 2 years old, much of the technical whizbang may be lost on the children now, but it is still remarkably beautiful and well-presented.
That part is not as surprising, being as Walden Media have made the film, but the almost shockingly good screenplay and the heavy emphasis on character and simplicity is so breathtakingly refreshing, you come out of the movie grinning. It's not worthy of best-of-the-year accolades (least because of its delayed release), but it still is a simple fun film that everyone can have fun watching. And we know we haven't had many of those lately.
This is not to say the plot or the treatment is simply child-friendly and dumbed down. This is an intelligent movie with enough going on that the adults can latch on to some really meaty character bits, while the kids can squeal at the weight of a Loch-ness monster giving a lake ride to a 12-year-old boy. No, the simplicity comes from emphasis on character and plot, a neat and clean narrative style, and, most importantly, Russell's focus on keeping a sense of place and time intact.
Mounted as a tale an old Scot is telling a bunch of tourists, the story has a young boy Angus (Alex Etel) who lives in a Scottish country estate with his housekeeper mother (Emily Watson), his sister and the staff. Joining them later is Lewis (Ben Chaplin), a handyman. Angus' father was a Naval officer whose ship was sunk in World War II, though Angus refuses to believe that, all the while becoming aquaphobic.
One day he finds an egg by the seashore that he brings home, which hatches into an unknown creature he christens Crusoe. At the same time an Army captain (David Morrissey) is posted to the estate, and on one hand is the captain trying to convince himself his posting has meaning, and recognizing his loneliness in Anne, with Lewis trying to thwart the captain for that, and on the other hand is Angus and his continuous struggle to keep Crusoe hidden and realizing his father's loss through his new friend.
As I said, this is quite a meaty plot, upon which are hoisted some very crisp performances by the whole cast. The screenplay is rock-solid because of the plot, though there is a penchant to give in to character stereotypes for the supporting cast. While the screenplay steals ideas from almost all beloved children films, the original plot, and the sincerity in writing, makes this a unique and sweet film.
It is a gorgeous movie by any standards, 2 years old or not, and the Scottish coastal vistas are beautifully rendered. It is ambitious and full of genuine feeling, and while this is no Pan's Labyrinth, it is still a film that you can have fun with, child or not. The simplicity of filmmaking coupled with a welcome depth in writing make this a movie you should try and catch before they take another 2 years to release a film like this for us.