Wednesday 7 May 2014

Voyage of the Unicorn

I first saw Voyage of the Unicorn in about 2010. I came home from work and my daughter, aged fifteen at the time, rushed up to me and yelled: "Dad, you've got to watch this!" She presented me with a DVD in a plain cardboard sleeve; it was a free gift that had been enclosed in a newspaper, the kind of thing the papers did a lot in those days. The cover was of a stout looking man holding a cutlass and surrounding him were a circuit of strange beings. "Let's watch it, Dad!" enthused my daughter. "Please?" I settled down in front of the TV and prepared myself to be bored for a couple of hours in the course of my paternal duty in keeping her company. About three quarters of the way through the film she told me she'd had enough of it and wanted to turn it off. "No!" I retorted "I want to see all of it!"
Voyage of the Unicorn can be purchased on Amazon, see: (Beware, because there is a 132 minute feature cut of this floating about; I advise buying only the full three-hour miniseries.)
However, at the time of writing the series is currently a freebie on YouTube, but please support the film makers and buy the DVD if you can:
Highlight- Miranda's dance:

People often ask me why I ever watch television, seeing as I criticize it so much. This is true and there have been some TV programmes recently that have been utter pieces of turdcraft which I have given a well-deserved and merciless pasting, for example see: and: However when it comes to my studies of the media, I cannot agree with those who say it's completely controlled by a monolithic power-structure which dictates every single thing that comes out of it. This can't be the case otherwise the media would in fact be a very different entity to what we have. A completely controlled media would have a counter-propositional side to it in order not to make the manipulation too obvious, but it would be very attenuated and insipid; for any seasoned eye this duplicity would be very transparent. The kinds of productions I talk about in this article, see:, would never appear. I know people who tell me Avatar, Blakes 7 and V for Vendetta are pure psy-ops; in that case I'd like to ask them by what criteria could anything ever be considered genuine by them?

Some programmes in the mainstream media are in fact good, and some a truly magnificent. A few months ago I did a review of my favourite, Gone to Seed, see:, and the one now under discussion is without a doubt a close runner up. Voyage of the Unicorn is a "TV movie". This, as its name suggests, is a film produced specifically to be broadcast on television and is not intended to be released in cinemas. This inevitably makes TV movies stylistically distinct from films targeted at the big screen; they tend to have smaller casts, a less ambitious scope and less sophisticated plots. They very often have lower budgets and even if they sign up a star to play the lead role, the supporting acts tend to be from the B-movie pool. They're often formatted like the episodes of a TV drama series and have minor suspense scenes added periodically, together with pauses worked into the score, for the inevitable commercial breaks. They're sometimes regarded with snobbish condescension by movie connoisseurs; there is even a film called Based on an Untrue Story which is a parody of TV movies, see: If there is any point I could ever agree with less, when I watch Voyage of the Unicorn I truly doubt it. This particular "TV movie" comes from Canada and was broadcast on the TV1000 channel in 2001. It was directed by Philip Spink and written by Dan Levine.
Credendo Vides
The film is centred on a man called Prof. Alan Aisling, played by Beau Bridges, the best known actor in the film. He's a university lecturer who has two daughters, Miranda, who is aged about sixteen and Cassandra, who is three or four years younger. Aisling leads quite a lonely life since his wife died some months before the start of the story. His life consists mostly of looking after his daughters, who are taking their mother's death very badly. When he is at work he teaches a course in comparative mythology, only he does it in a very unorthodox way. He writes on the classroom blackboard the words credendo vides, this is Latin for "by believing one sees"; this becomes the motto for the entire film. One student shows him a brass doorknob and says it reminds her of the sun; and Prof. Aisling, instead of telling her not to be silly and to put it away, congratulates her on her imaginative and creative thoughts. He's a very non-conformist teacher, the kind I wish I'd had when I was at school. Unfortunately Aisling's maverick teaching methods result in him falling out of favour with the university authorities, in a storyline similar to the wonderful film Dead Poets Society. The officious and highly conventional dean of the college reprimands him for leading his students astray from "what they really need" which is practical and scientific matters alone and not "airy fairly" nonsense. Aisling retorts emphatically: "Science begins with imagination!" Voyage of the Unicorn is based on Voyage of the Basset, an illustrated book by James C Christiansen, in which we see a picture of the dean trying to measure his own imagination with a scale! However, from the very start of the film the viewer is told that something odd is afoot. Gusts of wind keep blowing across the scenes filled with a sparkle that hints of magic. But at the same time dark and sinister shadows lurk in corners and perch on rooftops. Miranda and Cassandra are two very different girls who express their grief in different ways. Miranda is pessimistic and cynical, battening down her feelings with a facade of resilience and pragmatism. Cassandra has gone the opposite way. Their mother used to illustrate fantasy books and Cassie has become obsessed with her late mother's artwork. She has begun to have visualizations about the scenes in her mum's portfolio, seeing them as real. Sometimes in her dreams, her mother appears to her in the photo she has on her bedside table. The viewer is never told for certain whether these apparitions are just Cassie's imagination, or whether the spirit of their mother really is still watching over them. At first, like her mythological namesake, nobody listens to Cassandra. But then something happens.
Beau Bridges as Aisling, with Miranda and Cassie
For a hitherto unexplored reason, our world comes into contact with another. The dark shapes that have been haunting the characters are actually ghastly monsters from another world; they're called "trolls", but they are very similar to Tolkienian Orcs. Their leader is called Skotos, brilliantly played by MacKenzie Grey and he has come into our world to hunt down Prof. Aisling. Fortunately the same merging of dimensions has also permitted a pair of friendly helpers from that same otherworld. They are Malachi and Sebastian, captain and first mate of a ship called the Unicorn and together they and the family escape through into the Faerie Kingdom. The ship is beautiful; it has a pure white sail with the words credendo vides embossed on its sail. Below decks the magic of the world really takes hold because, like Doctor Who's TARDIS, the ship is bigger on the inside; it contains a huge library and luxury quarters. Interestingly in Cassie's cabin there is a wardrobe full of the most magnificent dresses, yet in Miranda's there's just a drab homespun gown. Yet when she puts it on it transforms Cinderella-style into multiple divine fashions. This is quite revealing about Miranda's nature and it hints at what is to come later in the story.
The good ship Unicorn
 Sebastian, who is an elf, is the only member of the ship's company apart from his captain Malachi. His parents were killed by the trolls when he was a child. He is clearly quite smitten by Miranda. He is a sweet soul and his flirtations with her are extremely benign and appealing. This is very politically incorrect in today's world dominated as it is by feminism; Voyage is at its basis a radically traditionalist tale. Captain Malachi is a dwarf who is good-natured and knowledgeable; he serves as the family's guide in their new surroundings. Their first port of call is Faerie Isle, the centre of the Kingdom. This is a Rivendell-like Idyll of enchanted groves, dryads, butterflies, waterfalls and sacred springs, all benevolently ruled over by King Oberon and Queen Titania; of course these are characters from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. One of the most recognizable features of Voyage is the way its plot blends several different existing mythologies and literary allusions together, and it does so very cleverly and stylishly. Oberon and Titania then reveal to the family how they came to be brought to the Faerie Kingdom; it turns out that their heavenly land is under threat from the trolls and that there is a prophesy that they will be saved. In a very dramatic and moving scene, an ancient turtle-like creature called "the Senechal", who is a keeper of mystical knowledge, recites the prophesy: "There shall come unto us a man of wisdom and two maidens gentle of spirit. From beyond the seas, by there hand heroes enslaved be freed. Old wounds cleansed and the mightiest among us reborn. Know them by these signs, a ship, a sword and a banner thus; credendo vides- by believing one sees. Trust in their quest! Aid them, even to your peril. For they mark a new beginning and an end to darkness." Titania gives them each a special gift and private counsel intended only for themselves. However King Oberon is far more sceptical. He says: "mortals don't believe in magick." And most interestingly: "We can see into your world, but apparently you have turned your back on ours." That's a fascinating theme which I will come back to later. The balance of power in the Faerie world is kept by a great dragon, but he has vanished. The family's quest is to find the dragon and restore him... before the trolls do. The trolls are based on Troll Island, a place wreathed in darkness that resembles the land of Mordor in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It is barren and lifeless with volcanic cracks and streams all over it. Skotos returns to his fellow trolls announcing that the humans have succeeded into entering their world and they must now be hunted down and killed before the prophesy is fulfilled. The trolls' ship is as characteristic as their homeland, dark, crude, ugly and dirty. They immediately set sail in pursuit of Aisling and the girls.
MacKenzie Grey as Skotos
 The first place the family look for the dragon is a ruined stone temple on a dry desert island. Cassie wanders into an underground chamber and gets lost in a maze of corridors. Here she encounters a huge being which is half man-half bull. This segment is explicitly drawn from the ancient Greek legend of Theseus, the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Unlike the original story, in Voyage the Minotaur is good; in fact he's a very strong, brave and loyal companion who joins the family on their quest. While on the island they also encounter a huge reptilian skeleton. Could this be the remains of the dragon? They take the skull back to the ship. The next island they explore has a huge temple on it too, and one far better preserved. The family go inside and come across Medusa, a gorgon. Once again the film delves into the classical world for its storyline. The gorgons are creatures that resemble a human female except they have snakes on their heads instead of hair. Their magic power means that anybody who looks into their face will be instantly turned to stone. In the Legend of Perseus, the hero beheads Medusa and then uses her head as a weapon to turn his enemies to stone. In Voyage, Aisling uses an eye-shield of amber, a gift given to him by Titania, to protect himself from Medusa's gaze. In doing so he sees that she is not really a gorgon, but a lovely woman who has been cursed. She is lonely and lost living in the temple, but dares not go outside because she keeps turning everybody she meets into stone. Aisling takes her back to the ship and turns the amber plate into a pair of goggles for her to wear so she can interact with other people in mutual safety. But first the family can't leave the temple until they've solved the Riddle of the Sphinx: "What is it that walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon and on three in the evening?" The answer is: a man. As a baby, in the morning of life, he crawls on all fours; in the middle of life he walks normally on two; and in the evening of life he needs a walking stick, three legs. The Sphinx then lets them go free. In Greek mythology the Sphinx is not connected to the story of Medusa and instead guards the entrance to the city of Thebes. Also in Voyage, and I find this enormously interesting, the Sphinx is not an animal, but a winged humanoid. These kinds of creatures turn up all the time in myths and legends; angels and demons are usually both depicted as winged humanoids. What is less well-known is that the archetype also appears in paranormal reports, like the entity in The Mothman Prophesies and the Cornish Owlman. Why is that? Do the film makers know something they're not letting on? The family invite the Sphinx to join them on their journey, but she declines and flies off; although she returns to the story later.
The Sphinx- played by Kim Hawthorne, portrayed as a typical winged humanoid
 Once out at sea again the trolls' ship catches up with the Unicorn and they attack, boarding the ship. A swordfight ensues between the heroes and the trolls. It ends in disaster when Skotos captures the dragon skull; with the power of the skull he now has the authority to unify the troll clans and conquer the entire world... and even beyond. When Medusa tries to help by removing her goggles to petrify the trolls, she accidentally petrifies Malachi instead. Also the device by which the ship travels between dimensions, called the "Wunterlab", is damaged beyond immediate repair leaving Aisling, Miranda and Cassie trapped in the Faerie Kingdom. When Oberon and Titania hear of this news Oberon is devastated. He was sceptical of the prophesy from the start, but the news of the trolls' victory strips him of all hope. In an act of desperation, he defects to the trolls and offers them a deal; he'll help Skotos hunt down the humans in return for his homeland being left alone by the trolls. Everything looks hopeless, but they refuse to give up. Cassie maintains her faith through thoughts of her mother and Miranda plays the piano. Medusa is mortified by what she unintentionally did to Malachi and keeps to herself, although the others bear her no resentment for it. Aisling searches the Unicorn's dimensionally transcendental library for a solution and comes up with an amazing book of ancient magickal wisdom. In one of the best comic relief elements to the film, we see that it is a pop-up book in which the characters are all animated and intelligent. They explain that the only way to change Malachi back is with a silver apple and unicorn's tears. Fortunately these can both be found on a nearby island. When they arrive they find the unicorn galloping around an enchanted forest which is very similar to Faerie Isle. Oddly enough it has an image of the famous 1991 Barbary Castle crop circle printed on its hindquarters. In the sequence which follows, Miranda hands the silver apple to the unicorn, a picture that was captured in her mother's illustrations; here the viewer understands that Miranda is really very deeply magickal herself, but she has kept it hidden beneath her pain. This scene is very powerful and is the spiritual denouement of the film. It's prevented from becoming overwhelming by the antics of Olaf, the lovable ogre who owns the island. The unicorn sheds a tear at the sight of Malachi's statue and the ship's captain is joyously restored to life. They return to Faerie Isle with the unicorn on board to seek advice from Oberon and Titania to find that the trolls have sacked it. Titania is left alone, not knowing about Oberon's treachery. The family beg for counsel and the Senechal simply repeats the words of the prophesy and then dies in front of them among the ruins of Faerie Isle. Oberon himself is taken prisoner by the trolls. He promised to deliver Aisling and his family to the trolls and Skotos promised he would not destroy his kingdom, and Oberon realizes that he was foolish to believ him. Using Oberon's information the trolls cast a spell on the ocean so that a monstrous sea serpent attacks the Unicorn. Then, in one of the best known scenes from the film, Miranda saves them with her own supernatural abilities; see the highlights scene above, Miranda's Dance. It's extremely surreal with its animated sequences and seems incongruous within the movie, but I find it very effective. Aisling originally plans to sail the ship as far as he can from the trolls to keep his daughters safe, but the others persuade him that you can't run from them, they're everywhere. The only way to deal with a troll is to stand and fight. He tells Malachi to set a course for their headquarters on Troll Island.
Cassie, Miranda and Aisling with the Minotaur and Medusa
 The Minotaur, Medusa, Malachi, Sebastian and the unicorn all join the family as they sneak ashore on Troll Island at night. Here they find slaves from the occupied lands forging weapons for the trolls. They all steal some troll clothing as a disguise and infiltrate the trolls' main settlement. Skotos is making a speech to his rabble, leaving the dragon skull unattended in his throne room. Cassie distracts the guards outside and the others rush in to redeem it. Cassie is captured. Aisling tells Miranda to take the skull to safety while he and the Minotaur attempt to rescue Cassie. Skotos is about to drop Cassie into a volcanic pit to cook her for dinner when Aisling and the Minotaur burst in to try and save her. They're totally outnumbered by the trolls and it looks as if Cassie is doomed, but then out of the blue the Sphinx swoops down and snatches her away to safety. By now it is daylight and Miranda is running as fast as she can with the heavy skull, but the perusing trolls are catching her up. Eventually she rushes free of them and meets up with her father. Malachi, Sebastian, Medusa and the Minotaur have all been captured and Sebastian and Malachi are sent to the quarry to join the other slaves. Medusa is put to work as a servant in the trolls' house where she meets a shamefaced Oberon who is doing the same. Skotos tortures the Minotaur to try and force him to reveal the location of the dragon skull. Skotos even cuts off one of his horns, but the Minotaur staunchly resists. Miranda is watching from a cliff top and can bear it no longer. She jumps up, brandishing the skull and yells to alert the trolls. Aisling and Miranda flee by climbing up a waterwheel but Miranda falls back down, dropping the skull. Cassie and the unicorn appear at the top of the cliff while the trolls shinny up in pursuit. Skotos and Aisling fight to reach the skull while Miranda has to fight her way out from the mob at the bottom of the waterwheel; she's helped by the Minotaur who has now broken free. The skull falls into a log flume and washes down it. Skotos seizes it, but Cassie gallops up on the unicorn and snatches it back. Skotos corners them all together and tells Cassie to give him the skull, promising to let them all live if she does. Meanwhile Medusa has found the keys to the slaves' shackles and is releasing them. Skotos says to Cassie: "Do you really think that you, a mere human, have the power to unleash the dragon?" Aisling orders his daughter to hand Skotos the skull. But Cassie lifts the skull above her head and cries: "Credendo vides!" The skull levitates into the air, flesh and bone appear around it and an entire dragon materializes. The dragon dives down, breathing fire, burning up the trolls' buildings, while the slaves all rush forward free of their chains. The trolls flee in panic. Miranda embraces Sebastian and gives him a passionate kiss. The smoke clears and all the free people head home to their own islands. In the next scene the family are back in our world, each one thinks they had a dream until they all realize their dreams were the same. They then check and see and it turns out that they still have all the presents Titania gave them. Their experience makes the family happier. Aisling goes back to work and finds out that the original dean has suddenly retired, and so Prof. Aisling becomes Dean Aisling in his place, and naturally makes sure that his mythology course is approved for future terms. He also meets a woman who looks very similar to Medusa, and is played by the same actress, Kira Clavell. Miranda becomes a top musician and performs her songs in front of live audiences. Cassie tries her own hand at illustration and continues to be a dedicated and unapologetic dreamer and seer of great visions. Sometimes she dreams she sees the ship the Unicorn, and also her mother standing on deck waving.
End of synopsis

After I'd watched it all the way through and realized that I was now a fan of Voyage of the Unicorn I went online to see if there were any others I could compare notes with. There are but they're almost all young girls! I was worried that their parents might think I was a paedophile for trying to communicate with them; would they really believe that I was doing so simply because I love the movie too? I actually surprise myself a bit, especially when I read through the synopsis I've just written. Voyage of the Unicorn is aimed at younger viewers, there's no doubt. A lot of its plot is not terribly original for a fantasy story; its characters are what you find in existing fantasy literature, along with beings and settings from the classics; indeed it reminds me of Homer's Odyssey in many ways along with all the other classical links I've identified. This is not uncommon. However there is a far deeper dimension to Voyage, one that other related stories might lack. This is the world of metaphor and symbolism of the human condition as it relates to the spiritual universe. There's something about it that's profoundly pagan and very pantheistic; perhaps William Blake would understand, and also the German composer Richard Wagner. I can also detect the inspiration from Tolkien. There's a strong feeling that the world of Faerie Kingdom and our own world are involved in some kind of dialogue and there's a hint of the long prehistoric past in which the spiritual universe deteriorated from a higher state into what it is today. For example Oberon and Titania are rather like the subtle beings that some psychically sensitive people report encountering. When Oberon says to the family: "We can see into your world, but apparently you have turned your back on ours." it rings a bell. This is a frequent complaint that is related by witnesses to the presence of the fair folk. These beings from the other worlds see us as having lost our spiritual senses and wish we would regain them. Indeed Oberon goes on to declare his hope that "the Prophesy will reopen the door between your world and ours." As I've often said, it's not merely a case of us losing our spiritual senses; they've been stolen. The amber lens and the way Aisling looks through it to see the truth behind the illusion is the most manifest cipher of this concept; although it is not without precedent, indeed it was probably borrowed from Philip Pullman, All of this is underlined by the continuous, but very ambiguous, semi-presence of Lily, Aisling's wife and the girls' mother. Some of the things said about the trolls, and to them, really get me thinking. When she is caught by the trolls, Cassie tells Skotos: "You can change. I've read all about trolls (in the Unicorn's library presumably). There was even a time when you weren't evil at all." Skotos recoils at this statement more than anything else in the film! Galdalf says something similar about the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, that they were once Elves, but then they fell from enlightenment, like Satan fell from Heaven. Malachi also says to Aisling at one point: "I've spent little enough time in your world, Professor... Trolls are everywhere; different shapes and sizes, calling themselves different names, but trolls nonetheless! They like to tear things down, make everything the same, the way they like it..." The implication is that trolls are an archetype for man fallen from grace. The last sentence is of course how conformist humans behave in the Illuminati-occupied world. Skotos also mentions his visit to our world on several occasions and explains lavishly to the other trolls how it is ripe for plunder and that he'd like to conquer it too. And Oberon warns: "This evil will spill into your world too." Could this signify the notion Matthew Delooze and others have discussed, of a predatory malevolent interdimensional intelligence that is feeding parasitically off our world, or trying to infect it and change it into a copy of itself, like a virus? I myself have researched the idea of the rise of the Illuminati and how it was either the cause or effect of some kind of malfunction or decay in the spiritual universe. Nothing embodies this concept for me more blatantly than the Roman conquest of Britain two thousand years ago and I've explored the details many times, for instance: For me, Faerie Isle is a representation of the pre-Illuminati world and that the trolls represent our Illuminati-controlled world. This is very like how many people have interpreted James Cameron's movie Avatar, with the humans and the blue creatures being metaphorical for the conflict between the natural spiritual state of being versus the modern materialistic circumstances we find ourselves in. The historian Michael Wood puts it very well: "The end of sacred times, the triumph of profane times." In the scene where the trolls pillage and desecrate Faerie Isle, I can't help thinking that this is what it must have been like when Anglesey fell to the Roman legions in AD 60 and the forces of that Illuminati-controlled empire destroyed the sacred groves of the Druids and slaughtered anybody left alive there.

When Prof. Aisling comes across the Minotaur's labyrinth and realizes how similar it is to the mythology he studies, he says that the Faerie Kingdom is: "a reflection of our reality, or maybe we're a reflection of it." This is very Platonic, the idea that some worlds are reflections of others. This is the surprisingly high level of intelligence that Voyage of the Unicorn is based on; not bad for a free gift in a Sunday tabloid, eh? It is really far more than just a simplistic cheap TV movie to pass time for the kids. It turns out that my daughter was well aware of this when she bought home the DVD; she later confessed that she wanted to show it to me because she had a bet with a friend that I would love it. It was really a dead cert; she knows me too well! But despite the insightful thought that went into making it, Voyage is still essentially an adventure fantasy story and you don't have to interpret it philosophically to enjoy it. It is quite light-hearted in some scenes and it has a lovely warmth to it. The ending is somewhat abrupt after a well-paced and structured climactic segment; I wonder if it was originally scripted to be slightly longer. However that is literally my only criticism of it, and as I said about Gone to Seed, a work of art doesn't require technical perfection to be great. The score of the film is enchanting too, it contains American big screen movie-style piano lines as well as very aetheric lyricless vocals and uplifting pagan flute tunes. The message of the story is that magic exists in the most unlikely places. The gusts of wind filled with sparks of light in the opening scenes illustrate this well. You, dear HPANWO-reader, might think I'm crazy, you might think I've forgotten that I'm a grown man and regressed to childhood. I understand why you think that; but you're wrong, I haven't. Whether or not you judge me this way will depend on the kind of person you are. Have you the ability to immerse yourself in something like Voyage of the Unicorn, to forget all the forces holding you back from just letting yourself fly free in a world where there really are faeries, unicorns and singing mermaids? It will mean taking a brave step if you've never done anything like that before. You might fear the ridicule of others, or of your own conscience. Please don't. CS Lewis once said that the stupidest children were the most childish, and that the stupidest adults were the most grown up.


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