A Spell for Chameleon

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Movie of the Day for Wednesday, July 21, 2004
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Piers Anthony is considered one of - if not the most - successful science fiction/fantasy writers of the last several decades. His prolific library of work consists of imaginative stories filled with intelligence and wit. The most famous of his several franchises is Xanth, a mythical, magical world with geography eerily similar to Florida. This realm allegedly exists within our Earth, though the denizens of Xanth refer to it as Mundania.

The running count for the books in the Xanth series currently stands at 27, with paperback sales of the first novel alone surpassing a million copies in print. As one might expect of a series with such an extended history, its passionate fan base rivals any in the world of literature. Considering the zealous nature of this group and the success of other unnamed fantasy franchises, this project would seem to be one that would be given highest priority considerations from the studio producing it. That's why it's a bit surprising to report that Warner Bros. has chosen a group of people led by Wolfgang Petersen to create Xanth's first movie, A Spell for Chameleon. This group most recently brought us Troy, the overblown, underperforming (at least domestically) three hour Gladiator-wannabe. No, I don't understand it either.

Petersen's early work in Hollywood did include the children's classic, The Never Ending Story, so he does have some expertise in the field of fantasy. Having said that, it's probably not going to be an issue anyway, as his schedule is currently full due to his commitment to another fantasy project, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. Since he's not directing, there still exists the possibility that somebody funny will be put in charge. David Benioff, the man responsible for Troy’s script, has been assigned to adapt Anthony’s novel, though, so there is still cause for concern here.

Of course, not much work is needed from any scriptwriter or director to make A Spell for Chameleon funny. Piers Anthony's introduction to the world of Xanth reveals the silly puns inherent to the fantasy world, leaving the humor impossible to miss (to the point of overkill, some would say). For you see, in Xanth, literal takes are the norm for colorful phrases. Dreams are delivered by Night Mares, horses from the realm of sleep. Foghorns emit shadowy mist that obscures the line of sight. Shower caps are hats that conveniently travel the course of the body, bathing it along the way. A babbling brook is an overly friendly body of water that speaks English…and rambles on incoherently about banal topics of no interest to any sane person. In Xanth, nothing is as it seems, but everything is exactly as it sounds.

Also noteworthy are the inhabitants. Each denizen of this supernatural realm has a latent Talent that makes them unique. It’s not unlike a sorcerer’s equivalent of a thumbprint. Some of the Talents are useful, such as the ability to converse with animals, make plants grow or create powerful illusions. Some of them are as useless as causing others to sneeze or become covered in polka dot spots. Those who are classified as having the highest level of Talent are called Magicians. These are the rightful heirs to the throne of Xanth.

Bink, the only resident of Xanth ever born without an inherent magical Talent, is the hero of A Spell for Chameleon. He goes on a quest to find a possibly dormant ability within him. On his journey, he comes upon a trio of women, all of whom appeal to him in their own way. One has brains, another looks, and the third one unusual warmth and compassion along with an unusual touch of normalcy and mediocrity. He travels with each for a time, and in their adventures, they encounter many mythical (but not in Xanth) creatures such as Grundy the Golem and Chester the Centaur. Bink also stumbles upon the Evil Magician Trent, the deposed would-be tyrant who had been banned from Xanth 20 years ago after a failed attempt to conquer it. Trent had not been willing to wait his turn in the hierarchy of sorcerers, so he was sent to live in Mundania as punishment for his failed attempt at usurping. Bink comes to realize Trent has every intention of succeeding where he had failed some two decades before. It’s up to him to stop the powerful Magician, but how can a man born without any magical Talent accomplish such a feat? (David Mumpower/BOP)

Vital statistics for A Spell for Chameleon
Director Tim McCanlies
Screenwriter Tim McCanlies
Distributor Warner Bros.
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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