Handsome production values, state-of-the-art special effects and a uniformly fine cast give a boost to what could have been a routine adaptation of novelist Dick King-Smith's (Babe: The Gallant Pig) book about a young Scottish boy and his beloved sea monster.
Scotland, April 1942: As war rages and the grim possibility that German military forces will invade the British Isles grows increasingly real, a small Highland community braces itself for assault by sea: The quaint little village is perched on the edge of Loch Ness, a deep and long body of water with a natural outlet to the North Sea just wide enough to accommodate a fleet of Nazi submarines. Despite the threat, life in town goes on. Housekeeper Anne MacMorrow (Emily Watson) does her best to maintain the large stone lodge she oversees during her employers' absence, while her young son, Angus (MILLIONS' Alex Etel), keeps his father's workshop exactly as it was, anticipating his return from a tour of duty with the British Navy. That day, however, will never come: Anne has explained that his father's ship was lost at sea nearly two years earlier, and everyone onboard most likely drowned. Angus refuses to accept that fact, but has developed a morbid fear of water. One afternoon at the Loch, where Anne takes her son in hopes he'll overcome his phobia, Angus discovers a large, ovoid rock in a tide pool. He takes it to the woodshed and later that night realizes that his find isn't a stone at all, but an egg. The shell cracks and out pops a strange-looking creature with four flippers, horns like a sea horse, a long neck and a row of sharp little teeth. Unsure exactly what it is, Angus keeps the rambunctious little beastie in a water-filled barrel in the shed, but his secret is soon discovered, first by his little sister (Priyanka Xi), then recently arrived handyman Mowbray (Ben Chaplin). Mowbray thinks it might be a "water horse," a sea animal so rare it's widely considered imaginary. According to Celtic legend, there can be only one water horse at a time; before it dies, it lays a single egg. Mowbray tells Angus he'll have to return the animal, which he's already named Crusoe, to the Loch. Having lost so much already, Angus is reluctant to part with his new pet, but he soon has no choice. Crusoe is not only growing at an alarming rate, but a regiment of watchful British soldiers commanded by craven snob Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey) has requisitioned the house and surrounding property, the better to keep a sharp eye on the Loch and anything that happens to lurk just below its surface.
Director Jay Russell showed a certain flair for the fantastic intruding upon everyday life in TUCK EVERLASTING, but this film is saddled with a framing story in which an aging Scot (Brian Cox) tells a story — Angus' story, it turns out — to a pair of wide-eyed American tourists who doubt the reality of the creature behind the famous "Nessie" photograph. The frequent interruptions are unnecessary and break the wonderful spell Russell casts. Nevertheless, the period detail is evocative, Watson and Etel are particularly good, and baby Crusoe — a computer-generated image seamlessly woven into the live action — is a slippery little star in his own right. leave a comment --Ken Fox