This review was written for MuggleNet by reader Crystal Woehrle-Logan.
The moment I found out that the New England School of Communication’s The Tale of the Three Brothers was going to be shown free to the public in my town, you bet I marked the calendar. I got there an hour early and did my best not to bombard producer Tim Reid with questions.
CWL: “From the trailer and promos, it looks like you changed the time period.”
TR: “Well, we really couldn’t pull off setting it in the… Middle—”
CWL: “The 1200s.”
TR: “The 1200s, right. But we could pull off 1850s.”
The change in time period is used to the story’s advantage. The premise, in an entirely coincidental parallel to The Princess Bride, is that of a young boy being read a bedtime story by his grandfather. With the first shot of the book that Grandpa starts reading from, every Harry Potter fan will know what’s coming.
“We kind of hit you over the head with it,” Spencer Roberts, lighting director and key grip, said to me afterward. This is true, but Three Brothers also comes with some surprises that are handled with more subtlety and are very satisfying.
“I’ve got a question for you: As a Potter fan, did you get it?”
“I absolutely got it!”
And so will you.
The 21-minute movie starts with the three brothers at the river and a memorial cross made of twigs to reassure viewers that people have died there. It may raise some eyebrows that only one brother actually conjures the bridge. Hardcore fans know this is a very difficult spell to do, one that would require three powerful wizards to accomplish and therefore justify Death’s disappointment. The filmmakers present at the screening didn’t know why only one brother casts the spell, but my guess is that it helps support the dialogue afterward.
The special effect of the bridge’s magical appearance is worthy of the extreme effort put into it and recalls to mind the moving bricks of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Death appears as a young girl, which presumably is the grandfather’s choice to appease the boy’s weariness of villains in hoods. “Not everyone in a hood is a villain,” Grandpa says in a bit of foreshadowing. “And sometimes, life has villains.”
There are moments when I actually forgot it was the wizarding world that I was watching, but then Antioch raises the Elder Wand for the first time and words just popped into my mind: Imperio… Wingardium Leviosa… duel?
It’s a bit disappointing that Antioch’s opponent in the “duel” is unarmed, though it emphasizes that there’s no chance against the Elder Wand. We can be grateful that the filmmakers decided against making the blacksmith’s hammer hide his wand à la Hagrid’s umbrella. (Were there “the hammer is my wand” jokes?)
There is one moment of the duel that had to be explained to me later, and I will arm you with a hint: When you hear glass shatter, think about what the glass’s destination is.
When Antioch’s death comes, the scripted scene is appropriate but unfortunately combines two of the film’s occasional flaws: unnecessary scene pauses and wooden acting. The result is a monotone prostitute who apparently can’t talk and move in the same shot, making the scene awkwardly uncomfortable instead of fatalistically poignant.
Cadmus’s love story angst is told quite well, with a decidedly charming and later equally creepy fiancée. It’s tangible how wrong it is for her to be back among the living, and you are left wondering what happens to her after Cadmus meets his fate.
The Tale of the Three Brothers is focused more on telling the story rather than creating nods to Harry Potter canon, and the moments created make this film absolutely worth viewing to the very last second.
So the big question is: When are you going to get to see it online?
The answer is in about a year. It’s being submitted to at least 11 film festivals, and once those are done, Warner Bros. has given permission for the video to be posted only on NESCom’s website.