Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Live action wildlife stories tend to have a mesmerising effect on me.

I say this because although they tend to look terribly dull at the outset, they do have a way of quickly drawing me in. Maybe it's because such fictions contain such a powerful edge of real life running through them, combining the best elements from both in a way that neither style can ever hope to accomplish on its own.

Bearing this in mind, my mum and dad's VHS copy of 1979's Tarka The Otter surprised me this morning, simply because it failed to hook me in for such a long time. Tarka's initial environment is such a cold harsh place, so far away from the comfortable living room in which I was sitting, that I didn't much want to go spend time there.

When, gallingly orphaned, Tarka presently leaves his childhood tree trunk to go and seek his fortune, in terms of cosiness his new locations aren't much of an improvement. I know, I just wasn't empathising here. Typical comfort zone human, me.

Yet as the authors progressively drew whatever parallels they could find between the life story of an otter and the average homo sapien, I had to admit that I was starting to root for the watery little fella, even if he was turning out to be a bit of a hothead.

Despite everything I've said so far, this believable narrative ultimately becomes hindered by the more traditional human actors, who keep popping up every few scenes to snap us out of the realistic documentary feel and into the plain scripted fiction of films again. A little improvisation here might have cushioned the blow.

The final sequence - in which Tarka is being hounded across the countryside by, uh, hounds - just goes on forever, and as a result is riveting. It all makes the ambiguous conclusion infuriating, and yet as a result also one that I don't think I'll forget in a hurry.

Every so often a movie makes me feel sad inside, and if I'm honest, those are often the ones that have really done their job.

All the same, I've never quite understood why we willingly pay money for people to make us feel down.

Available here.


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