Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Christopher Lee, Christian Bale, Timothy Bottoms, Susannah York
Extras: Theatrical Trailer
The mid-1980s saw the arrival of many wonderful fantasy films for children such as ’The Neverending Story, ’ ’The Dark Crystal, ’ and ’The Labyrinth.’ Sadly, this genre never seemed to take hold with critics or audiences and, while the aforementioned films have gone on to great success on home video, intelligent, family-friendly fantasy is now rarely found in theaters.
One of the last films of this sort to appear was the 1987 release ’Mio in the Land of Faraway.’ ’Mio,’ a joint production between Sweden, Norway, and the former Soviet Union, was directed by Vladimir Grammatikov, starred a number of well-known American and British actors, and was based on the novel ’Mio, Min Mio’ (Mio, my Mio) by Astrid Lindgren of ’Pippi Longstocking’ fame. How’s that for a bit of international flair?
’Mio in the Land of Faraway’ stars Nick Pickard as Bosse, a lonely boy living with the obligatory evil relatives who dreams of a world where he and his long-lost father (Timothy Bottoms) are reunited. Bosse’s dream becomes reality as a magic apple and a floating head (don’t ask) catapult him to The Land of Faraway where his father reigns as the King of Green Meadow Mountain and he is Prince Mio. But all is not as it should be in the peaceful kingdom as the evil knight Kato (Christopher Lee) seems bent on abducting the children and turning them into birds. Told that he must seek out a magic sword and defeat the black knight, Mio and his new friend Jum Jum (Christian Bale) set out on a grand adventure.
’Mio in the Land of Faraway’ is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and offers a fairly decent video transfer. The image tends to be a bit soft at times but in keeping with the fairy tale feel this is never terribly distracting. Colors are surprisingly vibrant and well-balanced and the source materials appear to have been well cared for as there are few physical imperfections evident on the print. Black levels aren’t as deep as they could be and the darkest scenes become a bit muddled but, all in all, it’s a decent picture and I’m glad to have it in widescreen.
Audio is a very workmanlike English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix. Although the original language of the film is ostensibly Swedish, separate audio tracks were created for each international market and all of the soundtracks were overdubbed due to the varying nationalities of the film’s cast. A Swedish track would have been amusing but that would have necessitated the inclusion of English subtitles.
The soundstage is firmly anchored to the front although audio does spread to the surround speakers from time to time. The sound is always audible with very little distortion and the music comes across quite well given the limited dynamic range of the mix. The audio is nothing stellar but it also never gets in the way of enjoying the film. Oh, and did I mention that the theme song is performed by ABBA off-shoot Gemini? How’s that for a flashback?
While ’Mio’ contains just about every stock plot device for a fantasy film, it is so earnest in its approach that one can’t help but enjoy the film. Older children are sure to take to the story of a shy and lonely boy who rides forth to become a great hero — what kid hasn’t had that same dream? — but the darker scenes may be too much for the wee ones. Performances are a bit uneven with the child actors being forced to shoulder more of the load than they’re capable of but the film never talks down to its audience and is full of a sense of wonder and adventure that is seldom seen in movies these days.
Anchor Bay’s new DVD release provides a decent enough presentation of the movie and I’m pleased to be able to add this overlooked film to my collection of childhood fantasy favorites.