12 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, April 21, 1998
Magical effects save 'Merlin'
By Michael Galloway
Daily TV/New Media Editor
When NBC released a "rough cut" of its new miniseries that
premieres on Sunday, special effects were only partially fin-
ished, painted background mattes of castles had not been added
into shots, and a lot of music editing was yet to be done when
this tape was recorded. Therefore, "Merlin" will have to be
reviewed merely on the script and the acting.
Actually, giving a plot synopsis of "Merlin" is also a prob-
Sunday and Monday
from 9-11 p.m.
lem. Too many events, people and
themes have been crammed into this
roughly three-hour (sans commercials)
production. An aged Merlin (Sam Neill
), the world's last wizard, narrates the
story of his long conflict with the cold-
hearted Queen Mab (Miranda
Richardson), ruler of elves, fairies and
magic. Mab and her subjects face
extinction because humans have
stopped believing in them, so she
decides to create "a leader for the peo-
ple. A powerful wizard who'll save
Britain and bring back the people to us
and the Old Ways," magic, that it. Mab
uses her sorcery to conceive Merlin in
Gielgud as King Constant, Arthur's insane Christian grandfa-
ther, and all of this happens in the first hour before Sam Neil
appears as the grown-up Merlin, the story's central character.
Prior to Neill's entrance, Richardson, Short and the special
effects carry the production to the best of their abilities. But
Queen Mab's beneficent motives and actions aren't dwelled
upon long enough for her to seem anything but evil, and the
hissing whisper she speaks in is often hard to understand. Frik
becomes very interesting once his affair begins with Morgan
Le Fay (Helena Bonham Carter), but until then, the character
depends on his "employer," the one-dimensional Queen Mab.
Luckily, the FX gurus at London's FrameStore and The Jim
Henson Creature Shop provide enough eye candy to feast on
until Sam Neill comes on board.,(OK, there were a lot of par-
tially finished or complete special effects.) Fairies and elves zip
about at inhuman speeds, thanks to computer graphics and
time-lapse photography. The gnome Frik (Martin Short) and
his "employer," fairy Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) of the
Old Ways make these incredible metamorphoses. Finally, the
mountain king (James Earl Jones) rocks. Occasionally, the
time lapse photography seems overdone, especially when
Queen Mab is merely zipping about a room, but "Merlin" gen-
erally doesn't disappoint on the special effects.
Nor do the miniseries' actors and actresses. Short thank-
fully abandons the silly slapstick humor he's been doing
since "Innerspace" to give a wonderful performance as the
sardonic Frik. Richardson's Queen Mabis is as convincing-
ly evil as Hauer's Vortigern is convincingly tyrannical. Of
Sam Neill stars as "Merlin" in a miniseries premiering on Sunday on NBC.
a human mother.
And there are fairies milking goats, an incredibly unrecog-
nizable Martin Short as the shape-changing gnome, Frik and
Rutger Hauer as King Vortigern taking England from Sir John