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LEPRECHAUNS on TV

Robert Halmi, master of mini-series, strikes again.

By Frederick C. Szebin     November 06, 1999

Executive Producer Robert Halmi, Sr. has made himself a near patron saint to fantasy lovers. His previous works The Odyssey, Merlin and Alice in Wonderland have been ratings winners and, on the most part, some of the best of television-fantastique to hit the tube. With Jason and the Argonauts coming this spring, Halmi could very well have his sainthood assured with many viewers. Moving from Greek mythology, through British flights of fancy, Halmi goes to Ireland to offer The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns as a two-part mini-series for NBC to air Sunday and Monday, November 7 and 8 featuring some quite wonderful actors and his prerequisite heavy load of CGI (950 special effects in all) in a quite expensive and rather standard production.

Randy Quaid is business man Jack Woods, sent to Ireland to buy up plots of land for his company to bring a bit of corporate commerce in the shape of private homes and a golf course to the Emerald Isle. While taking residence in his cottage, Jack meets up with lovely Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Orla Brady) and promptly begins falling in love with her. He also makes the acquaintance of the Muldoon family, his leprechauns in residence, Seamus (Colm Meaney of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), wife Mary (Zoe Wanamaker) and son Mickey (Daniel Betts). As he romances Kathleen, Jack learns of the leprechaun lifestyle while Mickey and his mates disguise themselves and crash a fairy party, where the lad quickly falls in love with Princess Jessica (Caroline Carver). Not a bad deal, except leprechauns and fairies are natural enemies. War breaks out between the two camps in which the usually immortal little beings have that particular gift taken away from them by the Grand Banshee (Whoopi Goldberg), who demands that the war end and the leprechauns and fairies learn to live together.

This threat does no good once the blood lust is risen in the magical creatures, who race to meet each other on the battleground. As leprechaun and fairy alike begin to die, the entire world's natural order is thrown into chaos. Fairies are supposed to tend Mother Nature, who begins to die without the assistance of the flying sprites. Jack becomes involved in the war, training the little green-dressed fellers to fight, and faces the Grand Banshee herself to stop the killing while trying to get the families of the two young lovers to accept peace between them before Mother Nature loses her final leaf, a sad moment which will spell the end for everything.

The cast is uniformly excellent across the board, with Roger Daltrey, Frank Finlay Kieran Culkin and a host of fresh faces fill out both the magical and human casting. They give their all to the material and seeming to have a jolly good time. The special effects come on hot and heavy, offering us the fairy's floating palace, their underwater city, a really cool looking creature made out of magma, flying and flitting fairies and various morphs, as well as excellent art direction, some fine cinematography and impressive costuming (can't say much about the big pointy ears, though), but as is generally the case in such a production, the weaknesses are to be found in the script, and they are obvious.

Peter Barnes' teleplay is neat and tidy, with no real surprises or chances taken. It's quite typical actually, with touches of The Quiet Man and a terrible tip of the hat to Shakespeare when Mickey and Princess Jessica decide to fake their deaths with potions in order to get their families to stop fighting. There are nice touches of humor, all brought out through the wonderful characterizations by the superlative actors. Particularly appealing is Dublin-born Meaney, who seems to relish his opportunity to portray a creature from his childhood legends. But The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns, for all its obviously well-intended offerings, has that deficiency of magic, that niggling lack of diversity from any other story of its kind to cause it to lay in the water among its clichés and tired motifs.

The human love story between Jack and Kathleen has been told better in many places over the years, and follows a paint-by-the-numbers plotting that involves the 'cute' meeting (Jack comes across Kathleen bathing nude in a pond and is immediately taken for a peeping Tom), Jack's initial adversity to gaining her trust and affection (he races her horse against her own brothers, winning of course), and having to reclaim her love once she finds out why he really came to Ireland (he didn't tell her, you see, and she lost trust in him. Same thing happened on a recent episode of THAT 70'S SHOW). This sub-plot brings the first half of the film to a dead stop as the leprechauns and fairies rush toward each other in their initial imbroglio, a powerful moment of drama as the leprechauns have gathered in their tree bark armor and suddenly realize that they may have miscalculated their chances of beating the better-equipped and trained fairy troopers. Director John Henderson nearly kills the suspense and wonder of the scene by constantly cutting back to Jack getting ready to board his train to leave Ireland, and Kathleen, behind as he keeps his eye on the train station entrance should she decide to follow him. The human love story is totally uninvolving and not suspenseful in any way, and the love story between Mickey and Jessica is such an old and tired tale with only one real moment of apprehension when they come across a forboding tree that is said to make lovers who lean against it lose their affection for each other. The kids are so distraught over the war that they take that chance should it even give a glimmer of hope of bringing their families together. It's a nicely acted scene by Betts and Carver with some totally unnecessary CGI thrown in for red herring tension, but adds up to nothing for the lovers or the audience.

Should Halmi continue his quest to bring quality fantasy to television, he's got to pick better than this. Children should enjoy it, especially if they're not familiar with the script's constant barrage of stereotypical plot points, and undiscerning viewers may have some undiscerning fun, although they may begin to wonder why four hours was necessary when three or even a tightly-trimmed two could have sufficed.

NBC mini-series: part one Sunday, November 7 9-11 p.m., ETPT; part two Monday, November 8, 8-10 p.m., ETPT. Executive Producer, Robert Halmi, Sr. Directed by John Henderson. Written by Peter Barnes. Visual Effects by Cinesite (Europe) Ltd. Starring Randy Quaid, Whoopi Goldberg, Roger Daltrey, Colm Meaney, Kieran Culkin, Zoe Wanamaker, Daniel Betts, Orla Brady, Caroline Carver, Frank Finlay, Phyllida Law, Michael Williams, Harriet Walter, Fergal Fay, Nula McMannigan and the Irish Folk Ballet Company.

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