A Gnome Named Gnorm
(a.k.a. The Adventures Of A Gnome Named Gnorm & Upworld)

Director: Stan Winston  
Anthony Michael Hall, Jerry Orbach, Claudia Christian

The first thing that I want you to do is think back, a long way back when you were a small child. When you were a child, most likely one of your favorite things was to watch television. Not just any television shows, but ones that appealed to your developing mind. You probably watched your fair share of cartoons, cartoons that were originally made, long before you were born, for theaters. There were the Warner Brothers cartoons, and the MGM cartoons. And then there were the Harveytoons, the cartoons which I want to briefly discuss. Though you were probably just a kid when you first saw them, I think that it's very likely that you saw how repetetive they were. Casper the ghost was always looking for friends that were alive instead of, for some reason, looking for fellow ghosts for friends. Little Audrey was always learning lessons about tolerance. Katnip would always be after Herman the mouse, but would get tortured multiple times before the end. Baby Huey would always cause great grief and stress to others because of his stupidity and strength, but would eventually save the day for these individuals. More likely than not, these cartoons were your first lesson about formulas found very often in fictional media. Certainly, kids like formulas. Remember how you would beg your parents to read you the same bedtime stories over and over, as well as you would sit through the same Harveytoon stories over and over? There was definite comfort found to be experiencing the same things over and over. You might have found life as a youngster to be sometimes fair, but you could rely on those formulas in various stories to give you comfort and assurance.

But it's just not kids who find comfort with formula stories. Many adults welcome various kinds of formula stories as well. In the world of books, one can find literature series that repeat the same basic elements from book to book. I've read several Dirk Pitt books by Clive Cussler, and they all seem to start with a prologue set in the past, and when the story shifts to the present, the hero always seems to coincidently be in the area where the trouble starts. Despite this repetition, I've found the books fun reads. Television has its share of formulas as well. There was the Perry Mason show, which repeated the same basic plot turns and situations episode after episode, but audiences loved the show all the same to make it last for nine years. But one of the biggest places to find formulas is in motion pictures. I think you can instantly list a number of basic plot that have been done to death in motion pictures, but the one I want to talk about here is the buddy movie, from actioners like Lethal Weapon to comedies like Midnight Run. Why is the buddy movie so popular? Well, I think one of the biggest reasons is that it promises conflict. Buddy movies usually pair characters who are very different from each other, and with their being forced to work together, a lot of conflict can arise. It can remind us in the audience about the conflicts we have with people in our lives, and we can sympathize with the people onscreen. But a bigger reason I think buddy movies are popular is that the conflicts the cinematic people have are usually resolved in a happy manner. That comforts the audience, and makes them think that if those mismatched people in films can find common ground, we in the audience can do that with the various people in our lives.

No question about it, buddy movies are popular. Still, even though moviegoers like such movies, even they would probably admit that the genre has pretty much been done to death. It can be a challenge to find a new spin on the buddy movie. But recently I found a new kind of buddy movie - A Gnome Named Gnorm - that intrigued me, both with its new spin on the buddy movie as A Gnome Named Gnormwell as its history. I'll start with the movie's history first. The movie was directed by special effects maestro Stan Winston, his second directorial effort after Pumpkinhead. However, for reasons that don't appear to be very clear, the movie subsequently spent three years on the shelf after completion before it was (barely) released to theaters. I thought Pumpkinhead was a pretty good movie, so I was interested in seeing Winston directing another movie with an elaborate creature in it, especially since this new movie aimed to be a comedy. Let me explain. The events of the movie center around two very different characters. The first is a fellow named Casey (Hall, The Breakfast Club), who doesn't take his job or his various assignments very seriously despite the fact that he's a police officer. The second character is Gnorm, a gnome who lives deep underground and dreams of not being a mere tunneler in his underground world, but to be considered a warrior by his fellow gnomes. Their lives interact one day when Casey is assigned to stage an undercover sting operation in order to capture red handed some diamond smugglers, around the same time that Gnorm decides to head to the surface world in order to recharge (with sunlight) a "Lumen", a special crystal that helps to power Gnorm's underground world. This act will brand Gnorm a warrior. But things go very wrong for both characters when they happen to be in the same area at the same time. During the sting operation, one of the criminals present gets killed after Casey is knocked unconscious by a mysterious figure. Searching the grounds hours later, Casey finds the Lumen in a tree, and shortly afterwards finds Gnorm cowering nearby. Casey soon figures out that Gnorm was a witness to the murder hours earlier, so he threatens to keep the Lumen away from Gnorm if Gnorm doesn't help him track down the murderer.

I have to make a confession before I get further into a look at A Gnome Named Gnorm. I can accept a lot of strange and fantastic things found in all sorts of movies. But when I found this movie and read the plot description on the back of the video box before actually watching the movie, something that I learned about the movie really rubbed me the wrong way. It was something that not only could I not accept, I couldn't even picture being made to be believable by even the best director. No, it wasn't the fact that a gnome was interacting with human characters in a normal world - I could accept that. What I couldn't accept was: Anthony Michael Hall as a cop?!? That's just as ridiculous as casting Hall as the champion high school football player of his state. (Oh, wait - they actually did that in the movie Johnny Be Good.) If you know Hall from previous movies, you may understand why I found Hall to be grossly miscast (to put it mildly) in this movie. Yes, I know that this movie was supposed to be comic in nature, and Hall has some genuine comic talent that he's shown in other movies, but seeing him try to act like a person of authority throughout the movie is a ludicrous sight. Watching the movie, I got the impression that Hall felt something along those lines, because quite often he doesn't even seem to be trying. He comes across as extremely obnoxious, even when the screenplay gives him something comic to do. He is instantly annoying, so much so that within the first few minutes of the movie I was hoping that this character wouldn't be able to prove himself to his policewoman girlfriend (Christian, Babylon 5) or his hard-ass captain (Orbach, Law & Order), and instead would be greatly humiliated and punished in the end for his smart-ass and irresponsible attitude.

Hall's extremely obnoxious and unconvincing performance is by itself enough to sink A Gnome Named Gnorm, but there are addition problems with the movie that make it even worse than what you may be thinking at this point. One of those problems has to do with the character of Gnorm. I will admit first of all that it's clear some effort was put into effect by the special effects department to make this character. While the shots of Gnorm running and jumping around are obviously done using a little person in make-up and costume, the shots of Gnorm in the foreground are done by animatronic effects. Although Gnorm sometimes comes across as a little stiff and with texture looking kind of papier-mâché, for a movie that obviously didn't have a lavish budget he doesn't actually look that bad. However, while I accepted the look of this fantastic character, his actual personality is another matter. The movie's two credited writers (who also wrote the bomb The Zoo Gang) had the potential of writing a real original character with their premise, but Gnorm is a real uninteresting character. In his first few interactions with Casey, he doesn't talk, instead just grunts and growls. A short time later, he starts to speak broken English, leading the viewer to wonder why he didn't talk right away so he could tell Casey what he wanted right from the start. Anyway, he talks for the rest of the movie, but seldom at any point does his dialogue show any unique character or personality traits. Gnorm is essentially a character with no real depth, and comes across for the most part as a device by Casey to help his situation instead of a real partner who contributes an equal amount.

As you can probably imagine, when Gnorm and Casey team up, there is absolutely no chemistry between the two because Gnorm has no real personality. Though if Gnorm did have a personality, the chemistry would still be weak because Casey is not only obnoxious, he is extremely stupid. To illustrate, let me ask you a question: If a two foot tall gnome suddenly entered your life, what would you do to tell people that fact in a way that would not have them think you were crazy? You and I certainly can think of some ways, but not the character of Casey, who is so moronic attempting that action that his fellow police officers think he's crazy at first. But as it turns out, Casey's fellow police officers turn out to be just as stupid as Casey. When they (and other humans) finally get a look at Gnorm, they barely react; they treat this creature as if it were human. Stupidity can be funny in a movie, but when everybody in a movie is an idiot, it just feels frustrating. But it's not just the screenplay that has contempt for its audience, but also with Stan Winston's direction. There are a number of scenes where key footage seems missing, like when Gnorm escapes from a police station and leaves behind the cop that was keeping him captive unconscious and naked. How did Gnorm knock out the cop and have the strength to take off the cop's clothes and prop him up in a chair? It's never answered. Not only are there head-scratching moments like those, one has to sit through scene after scene that are directed with no passion at all, even during the movie's sporadic car chases, fist fights, and shoot-outs. I can't be one hundred percent sure, but I am pretty sure it was the uniformly shoddy quality of A Gnome Named Gnorm that ultimately sentenced it to obscurity. Is there anything about it that might interest even a select few viewers? Well, I know that people with interest in animatronics might be curious, but the rest of the movie is so hard to sit though that to that question I say to even those people: Gno way.

(Posted December 11, 2014)

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See also: Amanda And The Alien, Keaton's Cop, Star Kid