Norwegian cinemas are hoping that Knerten, a piece of wood with a strong personality, will help carry them through a difficult summer season. While numerous movie launches have been delayed because of the Corona crisis, the latest sequel to the popular Knerten series for children will make its premiere earlier than planned, to meet a strong demand.
Knerten og Sjøormen (“Knerten and the sea monster”) was opening in several cities around Norway on Friday. The Knerten movies are chiefly aimed at children, but parents and grandparents who grew up with Anne-Cath Vestly‘s much-loved Knerten books tend to happily come along.
The movie is premiering in the same year as Vestly would have been 100 years old. Vestly is widely recognized for adding literary qualitites to chilndren’s books. The plaza in front of Oslo’s new Deichman library which opened in June, carries her name.
The Knerten stories center on Lillebror, a little boy living in a remote place with no other children to play with. His best friend is Knerten (literally “little fellow”), who looks like a dead tree root to others but comes to life for Lillebror. The boy and his human-shaped stick figure develop their own secret world, filled with play and dialogue putting the grownups and the “real” world in perspective. The first Knerten movie from 2009 was an instant success. Among other things, it was noted for its accuracy in depicting Norway in the 1960s, right down to period garbage cans.
In the new movie, Lillebror and Knerten are spending the summer holidays on an island (Norway has thousands of them) and Lillebror is supposed to learn to swim. The problem is that a sea monster has been seen in the area, along with an eccentric but friendly scientist who wants to track down the monster. Lillebror also meets other children for a change, and has to decide whether it’s possible to have more than one best friend.
“It’s a nice, summery children’s movie that combines vacation nostalgia, good-humoured monster mythology and a current environmental message,” writes Sigurd Vik, a film critic for state broadcaster NRK. Vik thinks details like portable record players and overly complicated camping chairs add a rich 1960s flavour to the movie, which nevertheless provides a “wonderfully timeless taste of vacation” that does not lock the story into a distant past.
Producer Petter Dickmann of Paradox film told Dagsavisen last month that his team made careful calculations before offering their new Knerten movie to cinemas earlier than planned. He said launching new movies in cinemas and choosing premiere dates have become increasingly risky because of myriad factors involved. Corona restrictions limiting ticket sales don’t help.
“What we had was a finished summer movie, we heard the cinema industry’s concerns, and we saw that were able to move its release forward,” Dickmann said.
Cinemas have been suffering during the Corona shutdown, and still have to restrict audiences to 200 people in their largest theatres. Meanwhile, most film producers are reluctant to release costly new movies to severely limited audiences. That leaves cinemas with little fresh stuff to offer, since most films on their program are also available for download and streaming.
“It’s a brave move,” Dagsavisen‘ s arts and culture editor Mode Steinkjer wrote of the decision to release the films while heavy restrictions on ticket sales remain in place. Steinkjer had clearly enjoyed the movie, according to his review published Friday, but he pointed out that its plot is nowhere to be found in any of Anne-Cath Vestly’s books. “It looks more like a construction than an intuitive idea in line with Vestly’s authorship,” Steinkjer wrote. He found the movie bordering on the artificial, and questioned the need for a sixth sequel in the future. “It remains to be seen whether the children will agree to that,” Steinkjer wrote.
Håvard Erga, an executive at Odeon cinema in Stavanger and Sandnes, told Dagsavisen earlier that although he was not convinced Knerten could rescue the entire summer season in Norway, “it certainly helps” that the movie was made available ahead of schedule. That will bring in families and enable daytime screenings, he said, and makes it possible to call in employees who have been laid off during the Corona crisis. A few action movies for older audiences have also been released recently, as some producers respond to the gradual re-opening of theatres.
“A new movie is the most important factor,” Erga said. “Movie-goers need movies to go to.”