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20th Century Fox presents
The Thief Lord (2005)

"Do you know what happens here after dark? Things little eyes should never, ever see."
- Scipio/The Thief Lord (Rollo Weeks)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: March 13, 2006

Stars: Aaron Johnson, Jasper Harris, Rollo Weeks
Other Stars: Jim Carter, Caroline Goodall, George Mackay, Alice Connor, Lathaniel Dyer, Caroline Boyd, Bob Goody, Robert Bathurst, Alexei Sayle, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Richard Claus

MPAA Rating: PG for language and thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:38m:11s
Release Date: March 14, 2006
UPC: 024543229773
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C BB-B+ D+

DVD Review

The Thief Lord is based on a 2000 children's book by German author Cornelia Funke; it was translated into English and did rather well with American children in the post-Harry Potter marketplace. It's largely set in Italy, yet the film adaptation, which has already screened in some parts of Europe but is going straight to DVD in the U.S., is in English and features a mostly British cast, despite the fact that producer/director Richard Claus is himself German.

Of course, none of that will matter to the film's target audience, who only care whether Funke's popular book has survived the adaptation process. I can't say for certain, as I haven't read it, but it's a fine adventure story, if a bit too reminiscent of a lot of other children's entertainment.

Formula for a popular children's story: take one plucky youngster (though here there are two, brothers Prosper and Bo, played by Aaron Johnson, Jasper Harris), add a dash of tragedy (they're orphans), a heaping spoonful of cruel and/or clueless adults (Bo and Prosper's aunt and uncle kept Bo and sent older Prosper to an orphanage; Prosper subsequently escaped and "kidnapped" his little brother), an exotic locale (the canals of Venice), a mysterious hero (the titular Thief Lord, played by Rollo Weeks; he's a teen who survives on the streets and provides for his band of lost boys and girls by stealing from the rich), and a dash of magic (Bo spies moving statues around the city, and the street urchins eventually hear tell of a merry-go-round with awesome powers).

I don't want to say much more than that about the story, because I found it genuinely entertaining and unique (despite the formulaic elements), easily a cut above the typical kiddie material (as fans of the book know well enough, I'm sure). It's pure wish fulfillment for kids—the Thief Lord and his fellow orphan followers all live together in an abandoned movie theater and seem to want for nothing, save perhaps some parental love. As you might expect, adults are either bumbling idiots, like the private detective (Jim Carter) hired to track down Bo and pawn shop operator Barbarossa (Alexei Sayle), or outright villains, cruel and unfeeling toward children. As an adult, these "kids conquer all" adventures are sometimes a little hard to sit through, but this one works.

I also like that there's more going on than you might expect. Like Peter Pan, The Thief Lord tackles some pretty complex themes about the difficulties of growing up and the adult desire to return to the innocence of youth, all in the guise of a good, thrill-packed yarn. Unfortunately, whether due to budgetary constraints or middling direction, the movie never really lives up to the plot. Though filmed on location in Italy and on some nifty sets, The Thief Lord's photography looks flat and lifeless, like a TV movie. The young cast performs admirably, as do the adults, save for Vanessa Redgrave, in a bizarre cameo, but the production is lacking. Costumes are unconvincing, the camerawork is fairly pedestrian, and the editing is rather choppy.

All in all, The Thief Lord is a good choice for the younger set, and will likely be pretty popular with the author's fans, provided nothing was changed too drastically in the mix. If you are just looking for a good story, though, maybe start with the book.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Thief Lord strives for a magical, Harry Potter feel but comes off looking rather low budget. The transfer is decent, but appears a bit muddy. Colors aren't very vibrant, and the image is rather soft. Dark scenes suffer from a loss of detail and pronounced grain. I spotted some aliasing, but no significant edge enhancement. A full-frame transfer is included on the opposite side of this dual-sided, single-layer DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio fares much better than the video; this is hardly an action film, but the mix makes pretty good use of all the channels. The front soundstage handles most of it, of course, and though dialogue is generally clear, a few instances of ADR are pretty obvious. Otherwise, the front mains and surrounds support the rather oppressive musical score, and kick in nicely during the one big special effects sequence late in the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The extras package is pretty slim, and if you didn't bother to check both the widescreen and fullscreen sides of the disc, you'd miss half of it.

The fullscreen side includes the trailer (which gives away rather a lot) and the brief piece of animation the Mosca character created, presented in its entirety (just over a minute). The widescreen side offers three brief deleted scenes.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

The Thief Lord is a little sloppy as a movie, but it's got a good story and fun characters and younger kids will like it, I'd wager, especially if they're fans of Cornelia Funke's popular novel.


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