There are some slight spoilers in my post.
Moist von Lipwig is a con man who finds his choices drastically reduced when he is captured and presented before Lord Vetinari. Faced with either certain death or becoming the new Postmaster and resurrecting Ankh-Morpork's postal service, Moist understandably chooses to become the new Postmaster. After a failed attempt to escape his new job, Moist gets to work and keeps an eye open for ways he might come out on top. One of the first things Moist does is learn what makes his two employees tick. To the elderly Tolliver Groat, the most important thing is being promoted. To Stanley, it's pins. Stanley is a very enthusiastic pin collector.
It's not long before Moist finds out that the fates of the previous Postmasters, and he begins to worry that the curse that got them will get him too, especially when the letters crammed into the Post Office start making him see visions of all the victims of the supposedly victim-less crimes he committed. Unfortunately for him, one of those victims turns out to be Adora Belle Dearheart, the woman he has fallen head-over-heels in love with.
Somehow, Moist has to get the postal service running smoothly again, deal with some truly cutthroat competition, actually deliver everything he promises, and convince Miss Dearheart to trust him again after she finds out the truth of what he did.
I had a lot of fun with this one, which is not to say it didn't have its issues. I do consider it to be better than the other Discworld adaptation I've seen, The Colour of Magic. Rincewind, the main character in that one, is probably my least favorite character in the entire Discworld series. Moist is so much more fun to watch than him.
First off, I should say that it would probably be helpful to have some knowledge of Terry Pratchett's Discworld before watching this. Although I could imagine Discworld newbies enjoying this adaptation, that enjoyment would probably be tempered by confusion. Several odd Discworld details pop up and are never fully explained, such as the bit in the beginning about the turtle.
This adaptation retains a lot of the humor, fun, and craziness of the original book. Other than the golems, which made me cringe a little, and Mr. Gryle, who looked like a damp Nosferatu reject, I thought everything looked pretty good. I also really loved most of the casting decisions. Stanley was just as unnervingly intense as I imagined he'd be. Miss Dearheart managed to be scary, severe, and sexy, all at the same time. Vetinari was wonderful. And I admit to squeeing a little when I realized that Reacher Gilt was played by the same guy who played Hercule Poirot.
Those who've read the book will be pleased to see that the bones and some of the flesh of the original story is still there. Purists will be unhappy about the things that have been changed or left out. I mostly enjoyed this streamlined version of the story, although I became unhappier with some aspects of it as things progressed.
Several of the moments I really enjoyed in the original book are still there. We still get to see Moist invent stamps and Stanley have an “ah ha!” moment that perfects them. Moist still gets the post office's sign letters back. And Stanley still sits and carefully follows the rules on what to do “in case of fire.” The streamlined plot meant that some things were left out, but I had expected that and was mostly okay with it. What I wasn't so much okay with was some of the changes.
Several of the changes gave me the impression I was watching a kids' show-style “very special message.” When Moist first started having visions of his victims, I rolled my eyes a little but accepted that this was how his change of heart would be shown. When he started having visions of ruining Miss Dearheart's family, though, it was so overdone I kind of wanted to gag. One terrifically awful moment set Moist up as the reason why Miss Dearheart began smoking. She reached for her regular chocolate bar only to, in her grief, change her mind and buy a packet of cigarettes instead. Then she went and broken-heartedly smoked them, while Moist cried out in agony every time she coughed. The heavy-handed anti-smoking message culminates in Miss Dearheart's decision to quit once she is finally happy again. Because only unhappy people smoke, doncha know?
There seemed to be more emphasis on Moist and Miss Dearheart's romance than I remembered there being in the book, and Miss Dearheart also seemed softer than I remembered her being. And dumber, because only an idiot would praise the loyalty and incorruptibility of golems in the beginning of the story and then think it was a good idea to try to convince them to go on strike later on.
All in all, this was a mostly good-looking and enjoyable adaptation, but I'd still be more likely to recommend the book. The book has more humorous moments and a better look at Moist's thought process (which does not turn from “con man” to “trustworthy Postmaster” nearly as easily as the adaptation might lead you to believe). Plus, I don't recall any heavy-handed “very special message” moments. I really wish the adaptation hadn't included those. They were almost painful to watch.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- Spice & Wolf (anime TV series) - This might be another good one to try if you'd like something else starring really clever, crafty characters. As in Going Postal, there are fantasy and romance elements, as well. I've written about both the first and second seasons of this series, as well as one of the original books.
- American Gods (book) by Neil Gaiman - This book is much darker in tone than Going Postal, but those who'd like something else featuring a con man and fantasy might want to try this. Shadow has recently been released from prison, only to learn that his wife is dead and cheated on him with his best friend. Shadow ends up on a journey that has him crossing paths with old and new gods and learning things about himself that he would never even have guessed at.
- Another Fine Myth (book) by Robert Aspirin - Skeeve aspires to be a magician, primarily so that he can become a better thief - after all, what good is learning magic if you can't profit from your knowledge? Skeeve's master falls over dead after conjuring up a demon named Aahz who has lost his powers. Skeeve and Aahz work together to find the assassin who killed Skeeve's master and hopefully get revenge. It's been ages since I read any of Aspirin's books, but I remember the humor being pretty off-the-wall.
- Hogfather (live action TV series) - I haven't seen this yet, but I want to. I think it's the only Discworld novel adaptation I haven't seen yet.
Too bad this one isn't available on Netflix.
- The Colour of Magic (live action TV series) - Another Discworld novel adaptation.
- The Warrior's Apprentice (book) by Lois McMaster Bujold - Miles Vorkosigan, the main character of this book, doesn't necessarily intend to become a con man, but it ends up being what he has to do to survive. Those who'd like another high-energy story starring a main character who's almost too clever and quick-witted for his own good might want to try this. I've written about this book.