Appellate Judge James A. Stewart isn't a "happy one."
"It wasn't just a Morris dance or a village sing-song. The people in the circle were…I don't know…possessed."
The village of Avebury can lay claim to "the largest stone circle in the world," with part of the village lying within the mysterious circle that dates back to Neolithic times. How Stonehenge gets all the press is a mystery, as is the mystery of what the stones were for in the first place.
For Children of the Stones, writers Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray came up with their own answers to that mystery. The two men had experience with shows like Doctor Who and The Avengers, and would go on to work on other projects together.
Children of the Stones, a seven-part serial, appeared on British ITV in 1977 and turned up on Nickelodeon's Third Eye anthology in 1983.
Facts of the Case
"Pretty fantasmagorical," Matthew Brake (Peter Demin, The Adventures of Young Robin Hood) says as he sees the stones for the first time. He and his father Adam (Gareth Thomas, Blake's 7) are arriving at Milbury for a three-month stay to research magnetic activity.
Wait a minute! It seems that Matthew has seen the circle before, in a used painting he discovered in a junk shop. The painting, which features two males running as the people around them are turned to stone, may be prophetic.
Adam and Matthew soon meet Margaret, the new curator at the local museum; Margaret's daughter Sandra, who warns him about the "happy ones"; odd poacher Dai (Freddie Jones, The Caesars); and Kendrick (Iain Cuthbertson, Painted Lady), who seems to run the village.
As Matthew begins getting strange visions from objects and the people around them undergo mysterious personality changes, Adam and Matthew realize they're in danger. How can you tell? All those strange people, as they become possessed, take up Morris dancing.
You won't have to get a strange vision from the DVD case to realize that Children of the Stones is a descendent of Doctor Who. It comes complete with cliffhangers, enough of a science lesson to get young viewers interested in science, and a few harmless scares that won't warp kids for life.
Also like Doctor Who, it's done on the cheap. Director/producer Peter Graham Scott kept the effects—double-exposed film to create Matthew's visions and a mysterious light beam—to a minimum, but they're not particuarly scary, especially when combined with eerie music that, thanks to overuse, starts to feel like the radio station jingle from hell with its indistinct choral voices. Oddly, the HTV West logo jingle at the start of each episode sounds about as eerie and frightening. Scott explains his musical choices in the interview; I can understand them but I really didn't like the result.
There's a little bit of ham in the performances, especially with name actors Freddie Jones and Iain Cuthbertson, but it's not out of place in this omelet; after all, most of the cast goes around in zombie fashion, by design.
There's not as much exterior shooting as Scott would have liked; he says so in an interview on the DVD. However, he managed to do a good bit of it, and a good job in the first place makes up for the weathering the film has sustained.
The extras, with a half hour of interviews added to the usual text features, are fairly good. There's some repetition in the interviews, but watch for Gareth Thomas and Scott telling the same story about a tourist wandering through the filming, but in different ways. The photo gallery is accompanied by that music, by the way.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're worried about it, keep in mind that the British had a slightly different idea of family-friendly sci-fi. No, you won't see gore, but you will see an adult or two grab a drink to settle their nerves. There are suggested deaths, but an improbably happy ending is designed to minimize fears.
This one was new to me, but if you've seen Children of the Stones and want to relive the experience, pick it up! It might not be as scary now after you've seen years of CGI monsters, but it is fun, and it's treated well on this DVD.
How does it stack up as a blind buy? If you want to introduce your kids to the joys of British sci-fi, an oldie like Children of the Stones might be less scary than, say, the CGI-enhanced modern incarnation of Doctor Who. If you don't have kids, it's an interesting diversion for anyone who likes British sci-fi or old-time cliffhangers. It's no must buy, but you stand a good chance of liking it if your interest was piqued.
Not guilty, even it could give your kids an unnatural fear of Morris
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.