Article 107

'Thorn Birds II' doesn't fly

People come up to me and they say, "Minko," they say, "what's the deal with ‘Thorn Birds II'? Should I watch it? Should I tape it? Is it any good? Better than the original? Worse? What?"

It all depends, I tell them, on your sense of humour.

"The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years" - airing as a two part, four-hour miniseries Sunday and Tuesday at 9 on CBS - covers a period of time skipped over in the original miniseries that aired on ABC in 1983.

The original - made back when miniseries were miniseries and people rearranged their lives to watch them - was a sprawling, Australian family epic stretching between 1920 and 1962 and driven by the forbidden romantic longings of a Catholic priest, Father Ralph de Bricassart, and a young Australian woman, Meggie Cleary O'Neil.

"The Missing Years," set during World War II, leaves out the sprawling part, leaves out the family-epic part and hopes that the forbidden-romance part is enough.

It's not, and the main reason is chemistry: THERE ISN'T ANY. None. Nada. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

True, Rachel Ward, who played Meggie in the original miniseries, wasn't exactly Meryl Streep. Heck, she wasn't even Curly Howard.

But when Ward came within 50 feet of Richard Chamberlain's Father Ralph, the sparks flew between them.

In this new film, snow on slush generates more heat than what we get between a desiccated, sleep-walking Chamberlain and Amanda Donohoe, now playing Meggie.

Even the miniseries' alleged romantic climax, the big payoff of the big build up, the physical consummation of their love - or, as Fabio might say it, ‘dare lawf' - fizzles. There's no real sense of anticipation, excitement, thrill or even regret. Talk about a letdown.

Which brings us back to humour. There's lots of it in "the Missing Years," albeit unintended, and recognizing it holds the key to getting through this dreary, lumbering, passionless picture.

Could there be anything more obviously fake, for example, than the supposed streets of Rome through which Father Ralph runs during an Allied bombing attack?

Well , yes, as a matter of fact: There's the fake flock of birds that flies, first, across the sky in Rome and then, miraculously, turns up again in Australia. There are the fake thunderstorm effects, the fake catacomb scenes and the bizarre facial close-ups of Chamberlain on horseback galloping across the Australian outback.

Speaking of bizarre, what in the world did scriptwriter David Stevens have in mind when he wrote the scene in which Father Ralph confesses to Meggie's 10-year-old son, Dane, that he once was in love with a woman? Or the equally odd scene immediately following, in which Dane stands on a riverbank surrounded by adoring wild animals?

And after the film's second or third reverential visit to the pristinely quiet and clean sheep-shearing shed, you'll be struck by the fact that it's not jammed with noisy, filthy animals.

You'll also chuckle at clumsy scenes between Meggie and her mother in which they tell each other things they obviously already know, just to supply the viewing audience with background information.

You'll notice that some story lines introduced early in the film disappear without a trace - Father Ralph's pledge to an orphaned Jewish boy, for example - and that others appear late for no apparent reason whatsoever.

And in part two, just when you think things couldn't possible move any more slowly, THEY GO TO COURT!