I’m going to break this post down into two headings: Things that are like the book and Things that are not like the book. I highly suspect that the second one will produce many more points.
THINGS THAT ARE LIKE THE BOOK
The children fly to Baronia to stay with Prince Paul, and after visiting the castle they go off to the mountains.
There’s a statue in a cave, and the ear is used to open a secret tunnel.
There is a “secret” forest.
And that’s all I can think of.
THINGS THAT ARE NOT LIKE THE BOOK
Ruby goes along for the ride. Her main role appears to be falling for silly pranks (believing Paul that the Baronian tradition is to remove the king’s shoe, throw it over your shoulder and shout “the king’s feet go everywhere”) and getting lost in the mountains for a whole night. She does eventually reach the palace to summon help, though.
Charlotte and Thaddeus manage to get themselves tied up in the adventure yet again. Charlotte gets herself kidnapped by an old enemy and Thaddeus trails after them, both of them ending up in Baronia exactly where the children are.
The main plot is no longer about mysterious robbers who live in a forest no-one else has ever found a way into. Instead, it’s about an insane scientist who is trying to create a race of ‘living dead’ using spider venom. (He calls it poison all the way through but Ewan informs me spiders are venomous, not poisonous). So this crazy scientist has set up a network of underground tunnels and labs under the forest of Killimooin to carry out these important works. And naturally, when he and his henchmen discover Charlotte has seen them stealing a spider they kidnap her and bring her directly to their base of operations.
The main plot contains a huge amount of bad science. So bad I’m going to have a subheading.
Venom (or poison) is drawn from a spider’s back using a large pipette. No needle or anything, just a pipette.
A henchman is bitten by a spider (as a punishment for trying to defect, of course) and has a near instantaneous collapse. He is then given the extracted venom from another spider orally and recovers within seconds, just as our crazy scientist predicted. The idea of using one venom as an antidote is ridiculous in its own right (here’s how anti-venoms are really made) and the idea that swallowing a mouthful of any anti-venom would cure you immediately is just as stupid.
Despite our henchman screaming in pain as soon as he’s bitten, and being affected right away, both Thaddeus and Mike take much longer to be affected. Mike feels dizzy soon after and spends the rest of the episode in bed (unaware he’s even been bitten), with Thaddeus races around rescuing Charlotte, passing out, losing Charlotte, rescuing her again, over and over it seems. He only collapses fully in the last ten minutes or so. Oh, and he’s saved when Charlotte gives him both the venom and anti-venom orally, not knowing which is which. (He doesn’t turn into the living-dead, incidentally.) Mike is cured by the housekeeper’s medicinal soup.
The scientist’s goal is to use the venom and the antidote together, somehow creating a race of people who are both living and dead at the same time. Literally, as he says, the living dead. Ewan believes this is where the zombies in The Walking Dead may have come from, as he was watching that in the other room at the time.
Charlotte is to be his first test and is sealed in a pod that looks like it came from a bad sci-fi show. They don’t want to kill her, beyond her being the living dead I mean, so they pump ‘life-preserving gas’ into the pod.
There’s also talk of these living-dead people being “reactivated” with more anti-venom…
Laura and Peggy do their usual ‘scream as loud as you can’ performance right near the end, which causes each and every spider tank to shatter. I don’t know about you, but if I was going to keep deadly spiders I’d have them in some pretty sturdy tanks. Not the sort that would smash from an elbow bump or a human scream. Incidentally, it has been proven possible for an un-augmented human voice to smash glass,but only under certain circumstances. A professional singer who can sing at over 100 decibels (louder than a jack hammer), using the correct frequency and directing it at a fragile wine glass may shatter it. Two silly girls shrieking in a room full of spider tanks… not so much.
Their screams are also sufficient to have the crazy scientist and his henchmen all incapacitated and clutching their heads. The boys are perfectly fine, though.
And now back to the regularly scheduled criticisms:
There’s no mountain palace, no Yamen or Tooku. Instead we have an old wooden cabin and a housekeeper who looks like a stereotypical Scandinavian milkmaid. The children have to hike up to the cabin (no ponies).
There’s also no Ranni or Pilescu. They are replaced by Barney Stokes, an ex secret service agent from the states. He acts as Paul’s bodyguard from the trip and it’s evident from early on that he’s up to something. He’s supposed to have called in the palace guard when Laura goes missing, but when they don’t turn up he says “it takes them some time to get organised.” We’re proven right later when he ties up Ruby. He then saves her after she rescues herself with the help of a rope-chewing goat, and admits he has been blackmailed into helping the crazy scientist keep people away from the mountains.
We should have known there was something not right just by his outfit: tartan trousers and a Butlin’s style blazer.
There’s no underground river fraught with danger, just miles of tunnels with one or two gates that need passwords to open.
I think we can conclude that this bears almost no resemblance to the original book. It’s less like the book than Spiggly Holes and Secret Island put together. I don’t know why they got rid of every single interesting element and replaced it all with crazy science and about an hour of people running about high-tech tunnels and woods full of CCTV cameras.
Our baddies aren’t even convincing. OK, scientist guy is absolutely NUTS. But his key henchman (I think his name was Block) is laughable. He looks like Gestapo officer Toht from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but without an inch of menace (or a really cool travel coat-hanger). He’s clever enough to go to kidnap Charlotte and destroy any photos she has of him, yet stupid enough to take an open bag of secret documents with him. Naturally he leaves behind a document with an address on it which allows Thaddeus to find Charlotte. He also calls the scientist “master” and whimpers and cowers in his presence.
Most of the other henchmen look like soldiers, in full camo gear and balaclavas which they never take off, even inside the complex. They’re easily taken out by a) Thaddeus in a weakened spider-bite state and b) two girls screaming. The only two not in army garb are dressed like bikers (one even has a hideous curly mullet) and they can’t keep a woman in a sealed wooden crate long enough to transport her to Baronia without her escaping twice.
There are several other plot holes and illogical sequences but I think I’ve written enough to put you all off already.
The last thing I’ll mention is Laura (who is a queen of sulking in captivity) tells the scientist that she is Laura Arnold and she is from ENGLAND. In that snotty way that British people seem to always say, as in “I’m British – you can’t do anything to me.” Only problem is, she says it in the strongest Australian accent possible, and it’s fairly clear throughout that they have never set foot in England at any point. There might not be any kangaroos or deserts, but it’s definitely all filmed in Australia.
To summarise: nothing like the book. No stars.