Fans of Douglas Adams know the feeling well. A long-awaited feature adaptation of a classic novel finally comes together after decades in development (a feature version of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy had been in development since before Ivan Reitman had made Ghostbusters), all the signs are positive, the casting is perfect, but the result is a significant disappointment. As someone’s who’s still mighty annoyed that Hitchhikers Guide didn’t get the adaptation it deserved, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I approached the equally long-awaited adaptation of Good Omens - a project that has been in the making for some 30-odd years.
Sure, there were positive signs. The casting was inspired, the fact that Neil Gaiman was adapting the novel he co-wrote was encouraging but, I’ve been burned before.
It’s with great pleasure that I’m able to report that Good Omens is not just good, it’s about as pitch-perfect an adaptation of Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s classic novel as one could possibly be.
Hitchhikers which, as far as source material goes, is quite comparable as both Adams and Gaiman/Pratchett were prone to comedic riffs that work brilliantly in prose but could suffer much when someone lacking the skills attempts to translate them to the screen. Amazon’s limited series Good Omens perfectly captures the essence of the Gaiman/Pratchett novel while retaining a surprising number of diversions and asides that you’d be forgiven for thinking would not make the cut.
For those unfamiliar with the book, it’s the tale of an angel, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), and a demon, Crowley, (David Tenant). After living on earth for six thousand years, spending a good portion of that time trying to save humanity or lead it astray, respectively - they’ve come to the conclusion that they rather like their earthly home and would prefer it didn’t get destroyed by the impending apocalypse. So the duo makes a pact to try and avert the end of times, which is to be brought about by a child Antichrist.
Making things somewhat more complicated is the fact that neither Aziraphale nor Crowley know where the Antichrist is. He was supposed to be swapped with the child of an influential American diplomat (Nick Offerman), but due to a misunderstanding between a group of highly talkative and highly ineffective satanic nuns - ended up with a middle-class family living in rural England.
Meanwhile, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are gearing up to bring about the end of times; a witch is trying to find and destroy the Antichrist. The only guide to how things will turn out is a book called The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, authored by the last witch in the UK to be burnt at the stake. It’s all rather complicated and, in hindsight, even an attempt to do justice to the story in a feature film seems like a fool’s errand to say the least.
Thankfully, with a not-too-heavy, not-too-light six episodes, Gaiman and his crew can turn the densely comedic tome into a practical, always funny and always compelling series. Of course, it helps to have a director like Douglas Mackinnon on hand to oversee things. As someone who has directed his fair share of Doctor Who and Sherlock (among others), Mackinnon’s no stranger to balancing humour, horror and convoluted storylines. And he does a sterling job here, helping bring Gaiman and Pratchett’s idiosyncratic humour to the screen while losing nothing in translation.
It’s the pitch-perfect adaptation that will satisfy fans of the original, people who’ve ever wondered ‘What if The Omen, but funny?’ and those who - after Bohemian Rhapsody - want to see the music of Queen used in something good this decade.
Anotherfilmnerd's earliest cinematic memory was seeing Don Johnson throw up all over a suspect in John Frankenheimer's 'Dead Bang'. Ever since, he's devoted his life to searching out cinema that's weird, wonderful and features vomit in the most unlikely of places.