The Water Horse: Legend Of The Deep


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Water Horse
"Quite possibly the best of its kind."

Loch Ness Monster movies aimed at children have become a genre unto themselves. There is a certain set of rules to which they must adhere. A child or children must befriend said monster. Adults must be unaware of its presence and unwilling to believe when told about it. The adult pursuit of advantage in business or war must present a threat to it, and the young hero(es) must rescue it, learning something about themselves in the process. The Water Horse ticks all these boxes but also has a more complex backstory, interesting characters, and a refreshing absence of mawkishness. As such, it is quite possibly the best of its kind.

Young Alex, played by remarkable newcomer Alex Etel (and narrated, in a twist too obvious to be worth hiding, by the ever-reliable Brian Cox) is a lonely boy struggling to come to terms with his father's absence during the Second World War. Though he ticks off the days on his calendar, it's not clear that his father will be coming back. His unhappy mother (the wonderful Emily Watson) does her best to look after him but struggles to give him the attention he deserves. Left to his own devices, he finds a mysterious egg. When it hatches to reveal a creature he can't find in any reference book, he names said creature Crusoe and vows to protect it. But Crusoe turns out to be quite a handful, growing at an alarming rate - and everything is complicated by the arrival of a group of soldiers on a mission to stop enemy submarines attacking through Loch Ness.

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Add to this the arrival of an enigmatic young handyman (Ben Chaplin), whose irreverant wit begins to bring the family back together, and you have all the ingredients of a proper ripping yarn. There are baddies - the arrogant army captain and belligerent cook - and there are comedy locals whose first response to seeing the monster is to wonder how much they've been drinking (despite this, Scotland doesn't come off too badly overall). Much of the comedy is childish and slightly twee but that's perfectly appropriate in this sort of film. This being an old fashioned tale, there are also some seriously scary moments which might be a bit much for sensitive children, but our bold young hero carries us through as such heroes should, overcoming some of his own fears as he does so.

The real star of the show, of course, is Crusoe himself. His first appearance, looking like a half-naked turtle, is rather underwhelming, but as he develops he becomes more interesting. Scenes of him playing in water and running away from the soldiers' dog are really quite impressive. He looks properly suited to his environment, plesiosaur-like rather than cuddly, and we're never allowed to forget than he is essentially a wild animal. Some of the things he eats may, again, upset some children, so be prepared to talk the subject through afterwards.

Other children will, of course, be bored by a tale which lacks the flashier special effects, quick cutting and loud soundtrack they've become used to. This film isn't for everyone, but its refreshing honesty and emotional depth will make it a much-loved favourite for some.

Reviewed on: 17 Dec 2007
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A lonely young boy discovers a magical egg and befriends the strange creature which hatches from it. Plus read our exclusive interview with Jay Russell.
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Caro Ness ***1/2

Director: Jay Russell

Writer: Robert Nelson Jacobs, based on the book by Dick King-Smith

Starring: Alex Etel, Ben Chaplin, Emily Watson, David Morrissey, Marshall Napier, Brian Cox, Craig Hall, Priyanka Xi

Year: 2007

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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