The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep Made in: Great Britain Language: English Director: Jay Russell Starring: Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, Alex Etel, David Morrissey, Priyanka Xi Year: 2007
Synopsis: Timid, misunderstood Angus (Alex Etel) is a 12 year-old boy who lives with his mother (Emily Watson) and older sister (Priyanka Xi). They're caretakers of a mansion just off the shores of Loch Ness, in Scotland's Great Glen. The Water Horse takes place in the thick of World War II, and Angus' father, a sailor in the Royal Navy, was killed in action.
While playing near the loch one day, Angus comes across a beautiful rock and decides to take it home. However, the "rock" turns out to be an egg, from which a cute little sea monster hatches.
The only other people who learn about its existence are Kirstie and the new handyman, Louis (Ben Chaplin). To keep his mother from discovering the funny critter, Angus keeps it in the bathtub (and sometimes the toilet).
But the little sea monster grows bigger, then eventually goes to live in the loch where it becomes the famous Loch Ness Monster. Troubles begin when a regiment of British troops under Captain Hamilton (David Morrissey) set up base at the mansion.
Their assignment is to set up a bunch of cannons around Loch Ness in case German submarines decide to snoop in. Unfortunately, Angus' sea monster buddy has a long neck that's easily mistaken for a periscope.
The Good: Based on the book by Dick King-Smith, The Water Horse is an intelligent, entertaining family movie that's clean, well-acted, and well-written. Emily Mortimer and Ben Chaplin are solid, giving the film a sense of dignity.
And Alex Etel holds his own as the young protagonist, and I was glad to see that he played a pretty mature kid as opposed to a brat who goes for the "gosh I'm so cute" act. The cinematography is great, and chances are this film will make you curious about visiting Scotland if you haven't already been there.
The sea monster itself is the best part, though. The computer graphics that went into creating it are very convincing. When the monster's small, it's very cute and does lots of funny/stupid things that will make both kids and adults laugh. The movie also has its intense moments, and the climax is pretty exciting.
The Bad: The underlying story is pretty formulaic: Shy, misunderstood boy befriends mysterious creature, tries to keep it a secret, gets into lots of trouble, some people try to kill the creature, boy saves creature (or vice-versa), the end. By the time all the major characters are introduced, grown-ups can pretty much tell what's going to happen and how it's going to conclude.
There are also some issues with realism that may irk viewers. The sea monster idea notwithstanding, the vastness of the loch itself isn't very well represented. It's one mile wide, about 975-feet deep, and really long. And somehow the creature always shows up when Angus calls for him.
Also, Loch Ness is extremely cold and dark. The waters are always portrayed as blue and clear, when in reality, heavy amounts of sediment completely obscure any object just below the surface.
The average temperature of the water is around forty degrees, yet Angus dives into the loch to play with his pet monster for long periods of time when it would be patently insane to do so. And somehow Angus emerges without shivering, complaining of shrinkage, or dying of hypothermia.
Who would like this movie: You don't have to be a fan of foreign films to enjoy The Water Horse. Most of the major narrative elements are familiar, and this is a straightforward, harmless movie that's good for kids while addressing some grown-up issues.
The predictable plot might be an issue for adults, but children (who like having the same bedtime stories read to them over and over again) will probably be more forgiving.