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  Strings Master Of Puppets
Year: 2004
Director: Anders Ronnow Klarlund
Stars: James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, Julian Glover, Derek Jacobi, Ian Hart, Claire Skinner, David Harewood, Samantha Bond
Genre: Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Hal of Hebalon (voiced in the English language version by James McAvoy) is filled with rage at the death of his father, the Emperor. He thinks that the leader has been murdered by the Zeriths, the rival people to those who live in and around the castle, but what has actually happened is that his father committed suicide by cutting his life-giving head string, leaving a note to his son saying that he must now lead his followers with the Zeriths. So where did the note go? It was torn up by the Emperor's brother Nezo (Derek Jacobi) and the death made to look like a murder so that a battle will take place and see Nezo the new ruler of the land. Unaware of his uncle's scheming, Hal makes plans for revenge...

There aren't many films that exclusively feature puppets as usually, as in examples from The Muppet Movie to A Rat's Tale, there are a handful of humans to be seen. There are a few that have puppets and nothing but, Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds are Go, for instance, and Strings, scripted by Naja Marie Aidt, is one of them. Oddly enough, about the same time as this very serious indeed film, the South Park creators came up with their own puppets only effort, Team America: World Police, but while that and the Anderson films (and television shows) have their characters act as if they are unaware of the artificiality of their situation, the ones in Strings positively embrace it.

That's not to say Strings doesn't have pretentions, but the puppets here are aware they're puppets, although they don't know who's pulling their strings (and I suppose we're not too sure either). There's great importance stored by what holds them up, and early on we see Hal practicing for a battle with his loyal servant and teacher, Erito (David Harewood), and losing a hand when the relevant string is cut. It is then replaced with an appendage belonging to an unlucky slave - the only string that is irreplaceable it seems is the head string. All the strings lead all the way up into the sky, and we never see the puppeteers (aside from a shadow or two at the start).

The execution may be eccentric, but sadly the story is a humourless fantasy tale with little originality aside from its acknowledgement of its characters' state. Hal and Erito head off to the land of the Zeriths to track down their masked leader, while Nezo takes advantage of Hal's absence to strengthen his own position. His assistant is the Emperor's old general, now a handicapped assembly of body parts, Ghrak (Ian Hart) who has his own plans to marry Jhinna (Claire Skinner), the sister of Hal, and not only that but to build his own marionette-style Terminator body to regain his title as a great general.

The puppets' bodies are artfully arranged, but have no moving mouths - only their eyes occasionally open and close, leaving little room for expression, which tends to rely on the voiceover work. As Hal travels deeper into the unknown, he meets a mysterious woman, Zita (Catherine McCormack) who he falls in love with, which leads to a scene of amorousness which is faintly ridiuculous, with Zita letting down her hair provocatively and much rolling about. Some of the film's innovations are pretty clever, such as the way we see how puppet babies are made (or "born"), but the gravity that the story unfolds with saps the fun out of the film so while you can admire it technically, for entertainment value it comes across like a sober parable about getting along that may be good for you, but isn't exactly appetising. Music by Jorgen Lauritsen.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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