Monday, December 17, 2007

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass - Film Version.

We're going to take a break from Project Runway, because this last week was just a little bothersome. I'll talk about it later, but the fact is the challenge bothered me. So instead I'll talk about the movies I went to see this weekend, starting with The Golden Compass.

Now, I'm interested in how many people are griping about the title. But honestly I like it because it fits better with the idea of "His Dark Materials." Also, it being a noun describing a thing that is very important to the plot of this particular story, I think it fits better.

What interests me is how everyone seems to be making comparisons between this film adaptation and Lord of the Rings. The reviewers keep saying it was made to cash in on Lord of the Rings, it's like LotR, etc.

It isn't. In the slightest, please don't go into it believing you'll have a similar experience at all. This film is made with almost the exact same formula as the Harry Potter films.

I walked out of the Harry Potter movies saying, "You know, that felt like a mash-up of the best scenes in the book, rather than a true adaptation of it." While I never got past the second chapter of The Golden Compass, I felt the same at the end of this movie. Like I had seen a bunch of random bits, strung together as loosely as they could, so that you could cram in as much of the story as possible.

In the case of Harry Potter, it's a forgivable strategy. There's no way you could actually adapt any of those books (or indeed this one) into a single film. But the difference here that even Lord of the Rings couldn't rely on is that most of the people going to see Harry Potter HAVE read the books.

Most people, myself included, have not read The Golden Compass. So the screenwriter desperately needed to take a page from Peter Jackson and make a story that is deeply rooted in the original, faithful to the feeling of the book, but actually a film adaptation. It needed to be it's own entity, and I don't know that the director alone was capable of that feat. He certainly didn't manage it, I'm sorry to say. His heart was in the right place, and you could tell he did love the books very much. But even Peter Jackson had massive amounts of help, a whole team of people working to make it perfect. He had people who had devoted their lives to these books helping him envision this world. While I'm sure His Dark Materials are good books, they don't inspire that sort of devotion.

It wasn't a bad film. The problem was it had the potential to be a great film, it could have been so amazing. But the truly fascinating characters had these great actors to portray them and they had nothing to do. They were there for a split second and given very little motivation or story. Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala could have carried the movie, if they hadn't had to redub all of Eva Green's dialogue in ADR, making her voice and her face just so slightly off that it bothered me and I couldn't watch her talk. That's a personal pet peeve though.

Lee Scoresby introduction was brilliant, I looked forward to seeing more of him and I saw so little. His interaction with his daemon Hester was comical, and hinted of a calculated casualness. I hope that in the books he is explored in much more detail.

I'm happy that Iorek Byrnison got his due, and had his story told. But couldn't we have discovered anything more about Mrs. Coulter's dual-faced character? Couldn't we have gotten into the fact that even though I only read two chapters of the book, I got the distinct feeling that Lord Asriel wasn't a very nice man?

I suppose the problem really lies in the fact that I just didn't identify with or enjoy Lyra very much. Is it the character? The original writing? The adaptation? The acting? I don't know. But I didn't care what she did from one moment to the next, except that it allowed me to see the gyptians, or get to see one of Pan's many adorable forms. She seemed to exist only as a catalyst for everything else, not so much as a well-developed character.

While lesser movies have had their sequels, I don't know that The Subtle Knife will be made at this point. Sure, there was religious controversy surrounding the film, but I don't think that was what killed it. I think the type of people that would avoid a film because they see some persecution in it wouldn't have seen it anyway, and wouldn't have amounted to much of a box office difference. I think the movie itself just isn't that good, and that's the real shame of it all. It seems like the story only gets more interesting as the books progress, they should get their day in the cinema.

A final note: this is not a children's film, or I think so much a family film, and that is part of what will hurt it's repeat business. The fact is it's violent, and I don't make that claim often. In fact, while I called Pan's Labyrinth a violent movie I also heartily recommend it and say people should look past the necessary violence into the great fable that it is. In this film, it isn't so necessary for the battles to be so full of death. While there isn't a lot of blood, there is a very distinctive moment when anyone dies that shows without a doubt that they are completely gone. I don't think death should be thrown around so flippantly, even of the bad guys. It stops having an impact when you just chuck it out there left and right.

I think in the end it's a movie that might be worth renting, especially if you liked the books and can view it as an adaptation and not expect it to be perfect. If you liked the Harry Potter books AND movies, then maybe this is for you. But I won't be watching it again.