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A lesser Discworld book, but still entertaining
on May 22, 2001
"Moving Pictures", while not in and of itself and weak book, is one of the lesser entries in the Discworld series. It's first half is anchored more by parody -- which Pratchett uses sparsely and to great effect in the other books -- than by satire -- which is Pratchett's real strength, and the thing that gives the other books their weight. The parody manifests itself in Pratchett's doppelganger depiction of the American movie industry. He gets the characters just right (e.g., an egomaniacal film producer, a talking dog who fancies himself an agent, and leading actors who are vacuous and mundane once the camera stops rolling), but the cheekiness of the situations he presents come off as rather cheesy.
There are too many mangled quotations from famous movies, such as a dog inquiring "What's up, duck?", or a lady troll remarking, on an old-fashioned mating ritual, that "a brick on the head could be quite complimentary, but diamonds are a girl's best friend." And the epic being made in the book's middle-third section is about a civil war, a city burning in flames, and the love between a stuck-up Southern Belle and an older distinguished gentleman. When pressed for a title, the film's producer thinks it should having to do with wind, and finally comes up with... 'Blown Away'. The setup to that inconsequential joke was too long to be funny.
Although I should note that not all of the film parodies are hokey. At one point a giant woman carries an ape in her hand as she climbs a tall building, and all regret that they don't have a camera rolling to catch the scene. And a golden statue of a bald man holding a sword "looks just like my Uncle Oswald!" Pratchett has some fun with his jokes, but I just found there to be too many of them. They were distracting.
Another problem is that the ending just takes too long to unravel. There are myriads of subplots that need to be resolved, some introduced during the final encounter itself and further complicating things. Keeping this story simple would have been a good idea. Terry tended to let it get away from him.
The final problem I noticed was that the romantic leads, Victor and Ginger, lacked any heat. Terry seemed to rely on the reader's assumption that since they were the main male and female characters, then love would naturally bloom. He did little to develop this idea, but consistently allowed its possibility to seep into the narrative.
All that being said, there were some interesting aspects to the book. A strong point is made about the strength of movie magic (especially in comparison with the Discworld's "real" magic). Although a tad underdeveloped, the idea that people are unconsciously drawn to "Holy Wood" was a thoughtful take on the power of the imagination. And the continuing growth of the character of the Librarian (for the uninitiated, he is a former wizard magically transformed into an orangutan... and perfectly happy to stay that way!) is a joy to watch. Even though he can say nothing more than "Ook", he is consistently the most sensible and conscientious character in any Discworld book, using his logic and reason to save the day.