The idea of having Tiberius the dog in the film came when actor Paul Blackwell mentioned that he had a madcap dog. This canine, called Reg, had an obsession with balls, and this was factored into the script. See more »
Dr Plonk is the genius of his nation and age (Australia, 1907). He predicts the end of the world in 2008, but no one will believe him without proof. Aided and abetted (and sometimes hindered) by his lazy, deaf assistant Paulus, bustling Mrs Plonk and his dog, Tiberius, Dr Plonk creates a time machine and travels forward in time to find proof.
This comedy is a feature-length (85 minutes) silent, black and white film with a specially composed musical score. And it is funny. The audience at the showing I attended at the Gothenburg Film Festival started out not really knowing how to take it, but first there were giggles, then there were laughs, and the whole thing ended with applause and lots of animated talk and cheerfulness.
The movie has been shot on film that has been treated to look like footage from 1907 and filmed throughout with a hand-cranked camera. An adapted modern camera -- apparently the attempt to use real antique cameras and lenses had to be abandoned as they were incompatible with the modern film that was available. The story is that the movie was conceived as a way to use up writer/director Rolf de Heer's back stock of left over film, but the effort that has gone into keeping true to the look of silent movies does not suggest that scrimping and saving is the film maker's prime motive.
The action of the film is one long list of clichés from all the silent comedies you can remember seeing, and a great deal of use is made of that silent staple, the vanishing box. Freeze the action. Cut the film. Remove the box. Start the action. Oooh, the box has gone! (The box in this case is the time machine.) The film is successful in part because it has been very well written and planned, and very well cut. Also, apparently, because making it was allowed to take a very long time. It shows a great knowledge of and love for the physical comedy of the old silent movies. It helps also that many of the actors, not just Nigel Lunghi/Martin (Dr Plonk), must have circus or acrobat training, as they are both physically very funny and their timing is meticulous. Beyond that they also play their parts very truthfully to the style they are imitating. This is a comedy, but it is a comedy in the style of silent comedies from the early days of cinema. Even in the scenes in modern Australia, the actors stay in style as well as in character.
And the dog seems to be having a whale of a time too.
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