I watched this movie on Sunday evening. It is the third version that has been made, after Maurice Gee’s original book for children; and a kidult television series made in the 1980s. It would probably be branded in the Young Adult genre if it was released now. All three versions differ. I haven’t reconsidered the earlier versions and rely on my memory of them. Memory is always subjective. Things always look better to me in hindsight.

The underlying premise of Under the Mountain (no pun intended) is that the volcanoes of Auckland are menacing and there could be something sinister underneath them.

The protagonists in the story, the challengers of the unknown, are two red-headed twins: Rachel and Theo. They are older in the movie version, further into their teen-aged years than in earlier versions. When they arrive in Auckland after the death of their mother in the country we learn there has been a series of minor earthquakes in Auckland. This puts the recent earthquakes in Christchurch in a disturbing light!

Theo and Rachel are recruited by the mysterious Mr Jones, a being of light or fire from another world, to end his age-long struggle with the alien monsters called the Wilberforces. In all versions the Wilberforces live in a old house by the lake in Auckland city. They always look disturbing. The original story has Mr and Mrs Wilberforce. In later versions they are always male.

While they are said to be from other worlds stranded on earth, Jones could easily be described as last of an order of fire-mages in a war with primordial chthonic monsters. Mr Jones is a darker figure than earlier versions, willing to sacrifice his soldiers to return to the struggle at a later stage. He is at the end of his strength and must take risks.

Theo and Rachel are recruited by Jones because they have a telepathic affinity with each other which means they can use the fire-stones, the weapons that will destroy the Wilberforces’ caged monsters under the volcanic calderas of Auckland. The relationship between the twins differs every time. In this version Theo is more confident, which could be his undoing. Rachel is less confident with her fire-stone. In the previous versions it is Rachel who believes in the twins’ affinity and is more powerful in her use of the fire-stone. I am cautious when any fantastic fiction uses the command Have Faith, You Must Believe.

In earlier versions Theo’s contact with the fire-stone is weaker. In the original story he has to hold it against the ground to sustain his link with it; and in the television version he drops it breaking his contact with it a crucial moment, making it the weaker link in defeating the Wilberforces. Instead of creating an arc across Auckland both stones are cast into Rangitoto (Mount Bloody Sky). The words of the initiation sequence is lost in this version, which I remember as People of the Mud, I bring you the gift of death.

The Wilberforces and their monsters, the giant worms here called Gargantua, are destroyed before the monsters are freed and unleashed on humanity. The agency of evil in this story remains potential only, not realised. What could have happened if the People of the Mud who Conquer and Kill had been released in their power. Perhaps this is another story.