The Secret of Moonacre (2008) artwork

The Secret of Moonacre (2008)

19th July 2009

When Maria Merryweather is left orphaned and homeless, she is forced to leave her luxurious London life to go and live in the countryside with Sir Benjamin, an eccentric uncle she didn't know she had, at the mysterious Moonacre Manor.
Dakota Blue Richards, Tim Curry, Natascha McElhone, Ioan Gruffudd, Augustus Prew, Andy Linden, Michael Webber, Juliet Stevenson
Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Family
1 Hour 39 Minutes
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When 13 year old Maria Merryweather's father dies she is left orphaned, and thanks to her father's gambling habit, penniless and homeless. With her sole inheritance a rather moth eaten looking book that chronicles an age-old rivalry between the Merryweather and De Noir families, she is forced to leave her luxurious London life to go and live with Sir Benjamin, an eccentric uncle she didn't even know she had, at the mysterious Moonacre Manor. Knowing only a life in the city, moving out to the countryside is going to be a big change. Fortunately, her guardian Miss Heliotrope is not going to let her leave by herself and she packs her bags to join Maria on her new adventure.

Entering a mysterious world, Maria discovers that her book is far from being fantasy and she uncovers the truth about an ancient curse which was placed on the Merryweather and De Noir families that after the 5000th moon rises, Moonacre would disappear into the sea forever. With time for the valley running out, Maria discovers that she is the last Moon Princess and she has until the next full moon to undo the curse thus ending the conflict between the two families and preventing Moonacre from being destroyed for good. Let's just hope her mediation skills are better than her horse riding.

One of the redeeming features of the film is the wonderful quality of the images. Although this review is for the standard definition edition, the film is also available in Blu-Ray and is bound to look even more sumptuous. Filmed in Hungary, the cinematography is superb with the exterior scenes managing to portray the wonderful fantasy/gothic theme with ease. Along with the bountiful supply of rich colours in both the costumes and unspoilt scenery, the transfer looks wonderful. Even the darker interior scenes are reproduced with ease with some solid blacks and no signs of artifacting or outlining. The only issue is with the quality of the special effects, with the clarity of the image revealing some rather poorly generated CGI effects which were probably restricted by the size of the budget.

Like the rather cracking picture, the director and/or production team much have been proud of their soundtrack as the 448 Kbps Dolby Digital soundtrack is a joy on the ears. With the Christian Henson musical score taking centre stage (perhaps, at times, a little too much) all of the audio channels are forced to blast out the dramatic score with gusto. But that doesn't mean everything else is neglected as the effects and LFE channels are at work for the entire duration of the film with ambient effects galore. Dialogue is clear and precise in the centre channel whilst the front channels offers some good stereo steerage. All in all, it's the sort of soundtrack you'd expect from a big Hollywood summer blockbuster.

Although static, the menu is dramatically scored with music from the film - although if you listen carefully you'll notice that it's simply a straight reproduction of the opening score (along with the occasional sound effect of a horse trotting and a bird twittering). It's all a bit of a cheat really. Extras wise, it's going to be a very short comment as there's nothing to be found here. Unfortunately, the BBFC website doesn't list any extras on the disc so it's a vanilla release that will certainly lower it's value for money.

Adapted from the children's classic The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, it is one of J.K. Rowling's all-time favourite books and a key inspiration for her Harry Potter series (and something that the PR fluff behind the film is keen to ram home in the hope of picking up extra viewers). Unfortunately, for this movie adaptation it appears to have been totally flipped on its head with Harry Potter providing the inspiration behind the few special effects and general production values. Also, unlike Harry Potter, which is aimed at both a male and female audience, this film is squarely pitched at a younger female audience more interested in dressing up and wearing their mothers shoes.

Whilst The Secret of Moonacre will definitely appeal to a younger female audience, any adult sitting down with the said young viewer will probably end up reaching for the newspaper or decide that watching paint dry is a far more interesting pastime. Unfortunately, even though the cast includes the likes of Dakota Blue Richards and Tim Curry (I knew he'd be the baddie before the film even started) the acting is pretty appalling all round with dialogue to make you cringe. Even my girlfriend, who wandered in to see what I was watching and is still a young girl at heart, had her head in her hands and was wailing at a standard of acting that was more amateur dramatics rather than big screen entertainment. It all looked a bit of a mess really.

I guess it doesn't help that I'm not a young girl, but even my girlfriend agreed with me that it was a pretty poor show all round - and that's coming from someone who is forever berating me over my "unjust" film criticisms. Even when I try to be completely impartial and removed from my criticisms, I still come to a conclusion that a younger female audience, of say seven years old, would let the poor acting go but become totally confused by the plot. Perhaps reading Elizabeth Goude's book would be a much easier starting point for any would be fan. And I guess that's a valid point and I'm doing the film a bit of a disservice as a fan of the book is sure to be a fan of the film too.

I suppose that the intended audience is not really interested in behind-the-scenes footage which, given the complete lack of extras is a good thing, but it does highlight the possibility of being a rather hastily produced and cheap and cheerful release. It's certainly not something I've come to expect from the likes of Warner, but then I guess its relatively low budget prevented any additional behind-the-scenes footage being recorded. Any additional features would have certainly added value to this release and, without a hint of an extra, both the standard and undoubtedly superior Blu-Ray releases look rather poor value indeed.

This DVD release of The Secret of Moonacre is best left to fans of Elizabeth Goudge and the amazing pester power of a young child. As for everyone else, you're probably best sticking with the far more entertaining Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia films.

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