Wednesday, November 9, 2022

#2,859. The Quest (1986) - Kino Lorber Releases


Also released as Frog Dreaming, 1986’s The Quest gets off to an exciting start. A drunken Neville (Peter Cummins) is fishing in a small pond. There is no dialogue whatsoever. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith instead provides a quick montage of the surrounding environment, aka frogs, snakes, even the wind, all building to a tense, frightening moment when bubbles begin to rise from the middle of the pond, sending a nervous Neville scurrying for the shoreline. Once safely ashore, Neville turns around to see what looks like a monster rising from the depths!

The action then switches to young Cody, played by Henry Thomas, as he attempts to break a speed record on his bike. Using a contraption that attaches it to a railway line, Cody pedals as fast as he can, with most of the town there rooting him on. He does manage to beat the record, but his brakes fail. He careens down a hill and comes to a crashing stop.

At this point in The Quest, we haven’t been properly introduced to the characters, and know very little of the story. But Trenchard-Smith and screenwriter Everett De Roche (who also penned Patrick, Long Weekend, and Razorback) have already conjured up plenty of excitement to grab our attention.

And there’s more where that came from!

Born in America but adopted (unofficially) by Gaza (Tony Barry) when his parents died, Cody is a daredevil, a kid who is addicted to adventure. Joined one afternoon by his friend (and love interest) Wendy (Rachel Friend) as well as Wendy’s little sister Jane (Tamsin West), Cody leads the two to a place called Devil’s Knob, where he stumbles upon Neville’s pond from the opening scene. The three also notice the bubbles, and, eventually, even spot the monster. They also discover the decaying remains of poor Neville!

Though warned by the authorities to stay away from the area, and despite the protests of Jane’s parents (Dennis Miller and Katy Manning), Cody and his friends continue to investigate the mysteries of the pond, which the Aborigines believe is haunted by a creature known as a “Donkegin”. Determined to solve this mystery, Cody seeks out an Aborigine known as Charley Pride (Dempsey Knight), who knows more about the area, and the Donkegin, than anyone alive

As he did with 1983’s BMX Bandits, Trenchard-Smith proves with The Quest that he is a natural at turning out family adventures. The story is never dull, and there are plenty of thrills (and even a few scares) to keep the kids entertained.

It dose seem a bit odd that Henry Thomas, a few years removed from his star-making turn in Spielberg’s E.T., played the lead in what is an otherwise very Australian movie, and it didn’t help matters that his performance was a bit flat at times. Cody is a free-spirit, a daredevil who faces every challenge head-on, yet Thomas appears bored in several scenes, and is often overshadowed by Friend and West, who are strong as the sisters that tag along with him. There are moments when Thomas does come alive, especially in the last act (when he needed to), but he is the weak link in an otherwise solid cast.

Shot on-location in Victoria, including scenes set at the Moorooduc Quarry Flora and Fauna Reserve in Mount Eliza, Trenchard-Smith and director of Photography John R. McLean manage to make the film’s setting feel like a character all its own. I especially liked the garage where Cody and Gaza reside, which features a few surprises for anyone who visits unannounced.

The picturesque landscape, along with the film’s solid pacing and an intriguing central mystery (is there really a monster in the pond?), make The Quest a winner, and, despite a scene or two that might frighten very young children, is a film the kids are sure to love!
Rating: 8 out of 10

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