Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Golden Compass

Earlier this evening, I had the...experience of seeing The Golden Compass with Lanzador. As you can probably already tell from my use of ellipsis, I was less than pleased with the outcome of said experience.
First of all, TGC already had a strike in my book for toning down the anti-Christian metaphors. I can understand the desire not to offend anyone--a film is much wider reaching than a book (except perhaps a certain book series about a certain boy wizard that is certainly much better and more popular than anything I've ever written), and must be much more careful about crossing controversial line. But Philip Pullman wanted to get a particular message across, and quite a thought-provoking one at that, and I cannot stand it when someones work is bastardized for the sake of box office gross.
I will not blame Chris Weitz (who directed TGC in addition to writing the script) for this cheapening, however--he did what he could with what he had, and what he had was, admittedly, some rather thorny material. I blame the closed-minded Christians (a very small portion of Christians, but ones that always seem to speak the loudest) for decrying anyone or anything that would dare to question their belief system. I didn't hear many Atheists protesting The Chronicles of Narnia, or even The Passion of the Christ for that matter. The Jews did, but--and call me a hypocrite--I considered it perfectly acceptable. They protested because they were being portrayed as murderers, not because someone provided an intellectual alternative to their religion. I could go into my feelings on this much further, but this is neither the time nor the place. And despite my great love for Pullman's trilogy, the loss of his message was not my biggest criticism of the film.
First of all, the movie moved far too fast. There were so many scenes that could have taken their time and allowed the characters to develop. Time and time again a scene would take place that was one I particularly enjoyed from the book, and I couldn't wait to hear snippets of some of my favorite conversations or see some of my favorite character nuances, only for the dialogue to consist of just enough so we could follow and the plot and realize where we were going next on our whirlwind adventure. The book was very meaty, and I don't think anyone could have fit that much material into less than two hours and expected anything much better, but I just wanted a chance, just one, to really be able to see into the souls of these characters. Going to a movie isn't cheap these days, and I like them as long as possible. Making a movie is expensive, I know, but call me naive: if making a film longer will make it better, then whatever you spend will be recouped from the box office. I have read (on IMDB) that Chris Weitz's original script was much longer (and better for it, I am not shy to speculate.) If he helms the next film (or two,) I sincerely hope that New Line realizes the errors they made with TGC's final cut and give Weitz more directive control.
TGC also broke one of my cardinal sins of filmmaking: they treated me like I was stupid. I know I act stupid a fair share of the time, but I like to think that I am a pretty intelligent guy. And considering the controversial, thought-provoking subject matter of the book, I imagine that at least some of the target audience for the film would be intelligent as well. So why, WHY did the movie insist on spelling so many things out? I think I must remind myself that a) not everyone has read the book, and b) TGC is a kids' movie. But if I had to hear Lyra say a character's name one more time, I would have torn my hair out. Yes, we can see that a polar bear is coming to rescue you! We know that it's Iorek!
And then there was the ending. Um, what? According to a review of the film in Entertainment Weekly, the ending to the book is going to be the beginning of the second film (if it ever gets made.) Sorry, that does not compute. As feel-good as the ending was (or tried to be, if it hadn't brought the movie to a screeching halt), it was not the real ending. And tacking the ending onto the beginning of the next one will feel even worse. Again, kids' movie, but after dragging us through a whole lot of fluff, I think the least we deserve is an ending with some meaning to it. At least the film was consistent though--a sugary end to a movie as substantial as cotton candy. It looks like there's a lot there, but bite into it and it just melts away.
As for what I did like, there wasn't much. Sam Elliott was great as Lee Scoresby, the Texan balloonist. His soothing drawl slowed the film down to a comfortable pace, at least for the few scenes he was in, and in contrast with many of the caricaturesque characters, he provided an emotional subtlety that was positively charming. I also enjoyed when Lyra destroyed the intercision machine. I didn't think the film gave Lyra quite enough bratty cleverness--she was often bratty, and often clever, but rarely the two at the same time, as I think children at her age often can be. Other than those few points, however, a rather disappointing film.
(Oh, and the whole Northern Lights thing: that was the British title. Just a little FYI.)

Rating: C-

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