I stumbled across Troll Bridge recently while working on an article elsewhere ranking every film and television adaptation of the writings of Sir Terry Pratchett in the wake of The Watch series. Despite being a die-hard Discworld fan, this one completely passed me by and I was stunned to find I had friends who helped contribute to the crowd-funding effort that helped bring it to completion in 2019.
Since then, Troll Bridge has gone on to win over a dozen awards and been screened at a number of festivals. So it has an impressive pedigree, but does it “sing” as an adaptation of the Discworld books? Oh gods, yes. In fact, I dare say this is the best Discworld adaptation ever.
Based on the short story of the same name, Troll Bridge is centered around Cohen – the oldest and greatest of the Discworld’s barbarian heroes. Currently at liberty between serpent priests to slay and virgin maidens to rescue from despoilment, Cohen (Don Bridges) goes off in search of a troll that he can defeat in single combat.
Why? To see if he still can manage the task his father said was proof that he could do anything. To prove to himself he still has it. And to shut up his talking horse. (Glenn Van Oosterom)
Unfortunately, old-fashioned, bridge-tending trolls are quite rare these days. Even rarer than barbarian heroes. And times are just as tough for them. This leads Cohen to a confrontation with a troll named Mica (John Jenkins) and a random encounter he didn’t anticipate.
The original Troll Bridge story was written for am anthology of stories inspired by Lord of the Rings. Rather than writing something set in Middle Earth, Pratchett elected to write something that was thematically appropriate to Tolkien’s style, with a story about the world moving on from the days of legend and the march of progress in the face of difficult times.
The script by writer/director Daniel Knight perfectly captures this spirit, but it packs a bit more punch in 2021 than it did when Pratchett wrote the original story in 1991. The fantasy genre has developed extensively since then, becoming more acceptable in popular culture; thanks in part to the Lord of the Rings movies and Game of Thrones. The genre is no longer the province of Renaissance Festival attendees and the quiet kids who went to the library for fun. It is also more egalitarian, with chainmail bikini clad heroines and damsels in diaphanous robes being figures of irony rather than the alpha and omega of women in fantasy.
I mention this because this adds another angle to the chief theme of Troll Bridge and Cohen and Mica commiserating over the end of tradition and wishing for “the way things used to be.” Thanks to writers like Terry Pratchett, the fantasy genre has progressed far beyond the endless series of works inspired by Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian that dominated the genre for many years. As such, Troll Bridge seems to mourn that simpler time even as it offers itself up as a deep deconstruction of those same stories, with a troll who is a family man trying to impress the value of his work on a dissatisfied wife (Tilly Legge) and a bored son (Ruben Francis) rather than just another shallow monster. It’s also an oddly fitting coda to Terry Pratchett’s career, as he gave the project his blessing and the film is dedicated to his memory.
Beyond that, however, Troll Bridge is a funny and entertaining movie, with a great ensemble and solid effects work on the trolls, which the whole family can enjoy. I liked that as much as the fact that it got me thinking about fantasy as a genre and how much things have changed from when I first started reading these books as a boy. But that change isn’t always a bad thing and there is, as Cohen proves, still plenty of life in the classic concepts. A few good lessons in there for all of us, which is why Troll Bridge is one heck of a film and highly recommended.
Troll Bridge can currently be viewed for free on the movie’s website.