Graham Norton makes a cameo, in his usual role of Eurovision commentator
Will Ferrell’s Eurovision movie, The Story of Fire Saga, was only released on Friday, but it’s already leapt to number one on Netflix’s most-watched movies chart.
The comedy follows the fortunes of an inept Icelandic band, Fire Saga – Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) – who get the chance to fulfil a lifelong dream when they’re selected to enter the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest.
Written with obvious affection by Ferrell, the film is crammed full of Easter eggs and cameos for long-time fans.
It features a band called Moon Fang, whose horrific masks are a call-back to 2006’s Eurovision winners Lordi, while a sing-off in the middle of the film features guest appearances from real-life contestants Alexander Ryback, Conchita Wurst and Netta.
Ferrell’s character even performs inside a giant hamster wheel – just like Ukraine’s entrant in 2014.
Despite US publications having to explain Eurovision to confused viewers, and reviewers turning up their noses, the film has already picked up a legion of fans.
On review aggregator Metacritic, viewers have rated it 7.8 out of 10, compared to 4.9 from critics.
But as with all films “based on true events”, The Story of Fire Saga takes a certain amount of dramatic licence with the facts. Here are a few noticeable moments where the film gets it wrong… And two where it is surprisingly accurate.
1) The first scene instantly raises questions…
Every film needs an inciting incident that sets the plot wheels turning – and Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga doesn’t waste any time in that respect.
The opening scene finds Lars and Sigrit as children, watching Abba performing Waterloo at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.
Lars immediately (and correctly) falls in love with the band’s glam rock ode to the Napoleonic wars, and sets his sights on winning Eurovision himself one day.
But at that time, Iceland didn’t take part in Eurovision. In fact, they didn’t even broadcast the contest live until 1983, and only entered for the first time in 1986.
Another by-product of using Abba’s victory as a framing device is that Fire Saga are in their 50s by the time they finally get to perform at Eurovision (although Sigrit appears to have aged a lot slower than Lars).
That’s perfectly feasible, though: Eurovision’s oldest-ever contestant is Englebert Humperdinck, who was 76 when he represented the UK in 2012.
2) The Netherlands won Eurovision in 2019, but the contest is being held in Scotland…
Fire Saga meet their competition for the first time at a party hosted by Russian entrant Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens, chewing up the scenery like a particularly hungry sex kitten).
“This Julia Jay,” he purrs, introducing the UK contender in broken English.
“She come number one in England’s Got Talent four years ago, so she quite good – but everyone hates UK, so zero points.”
It’s a well-observed gag – except that the 2020 contest is being held in Scotland meaning that… er, the UK won Eurovision last year.
There are two ways to explain this one away: First of all, the UK could have stepped in as host if the real winners (The Netherlands) had declined to stage the competition. This has happened six times in the past, although not since 1980.
Alternatively, Fire Saga are competing in an alternate timeline where Scotland has devolved from the rest of the UK, and seen their Eurovision chances recover as a result. They probably sent The Proclaimers.
Turning Eurovision into a movie
Will Ferrell is a Eurovision flop ★★☆☆☆
3) The performers keep breaking the rules
Eurovision has a lot of archaic rules, mostly designed to keep an incredibly complex live TV show from going off the rails. Unencumbered by those constraints, the film takes a few minor liberties when it recreates the contest.
Sweden’s act, Johnny John John, has seven performers on stage when the maximum is six (gasp!).
Lars’s piano is actually wired up and plugged in, so he can play live – which is actually forbidden (double gasp!).
And most egregiously of all, Fire Saga’s song Double Trouble lasts three minutes and 22 seconds, exceeding the maximum permissible length by almost half-a-minute. (Mér er ofboðið!)
4) The scoring is all wonky
As Eurovision fans know, the contest actually stretches over five days, with two semi-finals preceding the grand finale. From each of those heats, 10 acts stay in the competition, and the rest are unceremoniously sent home.
In the film, Fire Saga’s semi-final performance goes disastrously wrong – and they retreat to the backstage area, certain that their dreams are over, to watch the scores coming in.
But in real life, the scores aren’t revealed during the semi-final. Instead, they’re kept secret until the entire contest has ended, to ensure there are no clear favourites going into the final.
In the film-makers’ defence, the voting sequence serves a dramatic purpose – ramping up the tension and raising the stakes for Fire Saga as the film enters its third act.
But there’s a continuity error that’s illogical at best, and careless at worst…
5) Iceland’s score keeps resetting
Every time a country awards points to Iceland, their score is shown to be zero. But Eurovision points are cumulative, so you would expect to see their total rise as more votes were cast.
What’s more, the scoreboard shows Germany, Spain and the UK taking part in the semi-final when, in reality, all three qualify automatically for the finale as part of the “big five” financial contributors.
In the screenshot above, you might also notice that The Netherlands appear to have entered the contest twice. Is that what’s known as “double Dutch”?
6) Edinburgh’s geography makes no sense
Films often take liberties with the layout of a city, but Fire Saga really takes the biscuit (or in this case the Highland Shortbread).
For a start, Dan Stevens’ character owns a lavish Scottish mansion that offers sweeping, panoramic views of Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle.
To get those views in real life, the castle would have to be located at the top of Calton Hill in the city centre – which would mean he’d built his house on a world heritage site, over the top of the Nelson Monument. (In reality, the mansion was Knebworth House, 367 miles away in Stevenage, and the backdrops were added in post-production.)
Causing more confusion for cartographers everywhere, the film’s performance segments were clearly filmed at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena – which has somehow been picked up and deposited at the end of George IV Bridge on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
It’s almost as bad as the time Thor caught the London Underground.
7) Graham Norton keeps interrupting the songs
When Terry Wogan stood down from the commentary box in 2008, after 35 years, few expected that Graham Norton would fit so snugly into his shoes.
Yet over the last 12 years, the presenter has proved wonderfully adept at guiding us through the night, with his eyebrows permanently set to, “oh, really?”
“If you’re going to get someone to dress as a gorilla,” he commented on Italy’s 2017 performance, “at least get a decent outfit. That looks like couple of old car seats sewn together.”
But no matter how dire a performance gets, Norton never talks over it, allowing viewers to absorb every excruciating moment.
The film throws that rule out the window, however, and has Norton providing commentary for every act while they’re on stage. He even swears, which would get him into all sorts of trouble with Ofcom.
8) The hosts aren’t from the host country
Each year, the host country chooses two (or more) presenters to helm the four-hour Eurovision extravaganza.
Traditionally they are awkward, stilted, cursed with the worst script known to mankind, and completely unknown outside their home country – although honourable exceptions include A-Ha’s Morten Harket, Boyzone’s Ronan Keating and Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli.
So it seems unlikely that the BBC would choose the heavily-accented “Corin Ladvitch” and “Sasha More” to helm the show if it took place in Scotland.
For reference, the last time the UK hosted Eurovision in (unravels scroll of parchment) 1998, the presenters were Terry Wogan and Ulrika Jonsson. These days, we’d probably see Graham Norton, Mel Giedroyc or Dermot O’Leary helming the show for the Beeb.
…And two things it gets right
In an early scene, Lars and Sigrit are standing on the docks of their hometown of Húsavík in North Iceland, when two humpback whales breach surface of the Greenland Sea and soar into the air.
While they’re clearly CGI, humpback and orca whales are common visitors to the area, and regular whale watching trips set sale from the nearby Skjálfandi bay.
You can see footage of humpbacks in Húsavík here and some amazing stills on photographer Daniel Enchev’s Flickr stream.
You might also be surprised to learn that the film’s sub-plot about Elves who assist Fire Saga in their journey to Eurovision has some basis in fact.
According to a 2007 study by the University of Iceland, more than 60% of the nation believes in the existence of Huldufólk, or hidden people, who occasionally lend a helping hand to humans.
You can read more about the phenomenon on the BBC Travel website. Or maybe you’d just prefer to watch Ja Ja Ding Dong for the 90th time. Today.
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