Hyped by NBC as “the epic event of the millennium,” this 10-hour extravaganza from the Halmi family plays like a fractured fairy tale that’s six hours too long — and it’s likely the first program of such length built almost entirely around special effects and outrageous characters instead of storyline and plot.
Writer Simon Moore (“Gulliver’s Travels”) has penned a self-indulgent, nonsensical script that represents, more than anything else, the extreme lengths that a network will go to obtain a sweeps ratings victory. Still, the Peacock is hedging its bets, airing only the first six hours within sweeps. Filmed over a seven-month period at fantastical locales, this is the high-priced mini that many say is the reason for the recent restructuring at the NBC Movies division. Filled with “Wizard of Oz”-like implications and linking together as many fairy tales as possible into a piecemeal plot, the biggest hurdle “The 10th Kingdom” faces is finding an appropriate audience. Far too violent and ugly for kids and too ridiculous for adults, the mini’s best chances lie with teenage boys, or possibly the Dungeons & Dragons crowd.
The length of the mini is certainly daunting, although other TV events, such as ABC’s “War and Remembrance” and NBC’s “Centennial,” were longer but still brought in a big audience.
But viewers tend to be far more patient with historical dramas, which are almost certain to register a return on the time invested.
That’s not the case here. Directors David Carson and Herbert Wise vacillate wildly in pace and tone over five nights, only to peter out in a very ungratifying denouement.
The basic plot features an alternate universe of nine kingdoms inhabited by fairy-tale characters, trolls, evil queens and human/animal hybrids.
Prince Wendell (Daniel Lapaine), ruler of the Ninth Kingdom, is turned into a dog by the evil Queen (Diane Wiest) who in exchange turns a dog into a prince in an attempt to usurp the throne.
A magical doorway linking the two worlds appears in Central Park, where Tony (John Larroquette), a janitor, and his daughter Virginia (Kimberly Williams) are inadvertently drawn through to the other side.
Their quest to return home is foiled — then propelled over five nights, with various characters emerging to help or hinder their efforts. It isn’t until part four that any attempt is made to piece together the seemingly random series of events, and even then it boils down to a tired lecture in self-help. Turns out Virginia needs to confront her anger over her mother, who left the family when she was seven. One trip to a good therapist would have saved Virginia and the viewers a whole lot of time.
The all-star cast is more like a bank of extremely available actors playing the largest collection of unlikable characters ever assembled for a television event.
Doe-eyed and pretty, Williams is heavily featured throughout — 10 hours is a lot for this star to carry on her shoulders.
She doesn’t get much help from the ornery and unpersonable Larroquette, or her onscreen love interest Wolf, played by the twitchy Scott Cohen.
Wiest, as the evil Queen, is given the most chance to shine, but even hers is a one-note performance. Wiest’s supposedly threatening evil character turns out to be surprisingly ineffectual for someone with so many magical resources.
Burly (Hugh O’Gorman), Blabberwort (Dawn Lewis) and Bluebell (Jeremiah W. Birkett), the trio of trolls who propagate the story, are the main source of humor — unless you count the dog turned prince who lifts his leg to urinate and ponders how to adequately stroke himself.
Other secondary perfs and cameo appearances, including Ed O’Neill as the Troll King and Ann-Margret as Cinderella, are either terribly overdone or, as in the case of Rutger Hauer as the Huntsman and Camryn Manheim as Snow White, completely underplayed.
Production values, however, are beyond reproach; lensing by Lawrence Jones and Chris Howard captures the most breathtaking vistas in England, Austria, France and Germany. Likewise, fantastical sets by Rob Hinds and Julian Fullalove evoke the grandeur of ancient fairy tales, while music by Anne Dudley further enhances the mystical atmosphere.