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LASSIE – Adrian Johnston

September 1, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

The world’s most loveable bitch is back! I refer not to Sir Elton, but to Lassie, that much-acclaimed wonder dog to top all wonder dogs. Sure, Rin-Tin-Tin and Toto had their fifteen minutes, and Scooby-Doo isn’t far behind, but surely Lassie bests them all. If that fact was ever in doubt, this latest adventure seals the deal. One might expect a 2006 version of Lassie to feature a bunch of pop culture references, cameo appearances, in-jokes, and perhaps even a celebrity voiceover for Lassie herself. This “Lassie” is, thankfully, nothing like that, and we can be equally grateful that Timmy and his constantly-trapped leg are nowhere to be found, either. Director Charles Sturridge has crafted a beautiful retelling of Eric Knight’s original novel, which had previously been adapted into the charming “Lassie, Come Home” in 1943 with Elizabeth Taylor and Donald Crisp.

The film is not updated for modern times, but set in 1938 (as the novel was), just before World War II. Lassie is the pet of a poor English family of three. The father (John Lynch) is a struggling coal miner who’s just lost his job. When he gets a generous offer from a wealthy man (the wonderful Peter O’ Toole) to buy the dog, he accepts, much to the dismay of his young son (Jonathan Mason), who of course is very attached to Lassie. Lassie manages to escape her new owner’s cruel stable master twice, running back to the family she loves, but they are obliged to bring her back. Without giving away all the details, Lassie ends up being shipped off on a train, hundreds of miles away from her original owners. The film is essentially a chronicle of her journey back home, ala “Homeward Bound”.

Young children may get something of a fright from portions of “Lassie”, as the dog’s journey home is a particularly arduous one. Along the way, our favorite dog is whipped, shot at, and beaten, not to mention all the other less painful perils she has to endure. Certain sections are surprisingly emotionally involving… if you aren’t moved by a sequence late in the film involving Peter Dinklage, then your heart is made of stronger stuff than mine. When we’re not watching the dog, we’re cutting back to the heart wrenching acting of young Jonathan Mason, or the delightfully sparkling scenes between O’Toole and his granddaughter

The movie is delightfully old-fashioned in the best sense, and it’s exactly the kind of family film we need to see more of in the cinema these days. In an era where everyone has grown attention-deficit, and family movies have grown flashy and empty (see “The Shaggy Dog”), “Lassie” is a piece of pure film making, a marvelous display of talent and beauty. The rich, gorgeous cinematography is breathtaking, and it affords the viewer time to soak in all the remarkable landscapes and realistic locations. The movie is directed with a superb steadiness, never getting dull, and never hurrying things along too quickly.

Another strong asset is the film’s music, by composer Adrian Johnston, who has worked primarily on television films up to this point in his career. This is the sort of movie I would imagine any composer would enjoy working on, as it provides numerous promising landscapes for an artist to cover with his musical ideas. Johnston steps up to the plate and delivers a very enjoyable score with something of an Irish lilt. He bases his score around several main themes which I suspect you’ll actually be able to remember when you leave the theatre, something that’s becoming more and more rare these days. The music often resembles James Horner’s more pastoral work, and there are sections of both beauty and grandeur are really quite enjoyable. Also, Johnston generally doesn’t have to compete with many sound effects or bits of dialogue, and his music is given a very strong mix, so none of his work gets buried, another none-too-common occurrence. I have one minor annoyance with his score… there are a few cues in which some synthetic percussion and/or electric guitars make a subtle appearance, which simply feels inappropriate given the time period as well as the “classic” feel to the film. Still, it’s a minor problem, as it only affects a small portion of the score. As of right now, there is no CD release planned, but let’s hope someone out there decides to offer this lovely score to the general public.

Yes, of course, “Lassie” follows many of the clichés of many animal movies, but rarely are such films presented in such lovely form. You can tell exactly where things are heading from start to finish, but you find yourself pleased whenever the inevitable happens. Superb performances (especially from O’Toole, Dinklage, and Mason), top-notch production values, and superb direction make “Lassie” one of the best family films of the year. Highly recommended.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • School Gates (1:55)
  • Mine Closure (2:31)
  • Under the Fence (2:05)
  • Bedroom (0:53)
  • Over the Fence (2:54)
  • To Scotland (1:32)
  • Locked Away (1:36)
  • Escape (2:08)
  • Truck Barn (1:20)
  • Freedom (2:13)
  • Chicken Run (1:26)
  • Loch Ness (2:00)
  • Runaway (1:56)

Running Time: 24 minutes 29 seconds

Promo (2006)

Music composed by Adrian Johnston. Conducted by Terry Davies. Score produced by Adrian Johnston.

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