Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Golden Compass, and odds and ends


Yesterday I took my sons to see the movie version of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, after my eldest had raced through the three books of Pullman's series His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass). I haven't read the books, so I came to the movie without too many expectations. My son, however, had many criticisms--mostly about how the filmmakers changed things from the book--which he whispered to me in an outraged tone through the course of the film. There's nothing like an indignant 11-year-old! But most egregious to him was how the ending, he said, was cut off.

When we read about the tortuous process of making the movie (on Wikipedia), it became clear that the filmmakers had had to make many changes, in content and in theme. In theme, to appease Christian groups who were upset by the story's anti-religious themes, and in content to force the story into a movie-length one, that stands on its own but is also obviously a set-up for a sequel.

This last is what really bugged my son, and what also bugs me about film adaptations like The Lord of the Rings. I guess it has to be done if you're going to do a series of films, but the cliffhanger ending, while fine on TV, just doesn't work in a theater. Especially when you know you'll be waiting at least a year for the next installment of the story.

I haven't posted much lately, having been extremely busy with the kids. Also busy with my striking, picketing husband (see United Hollywood for updates on that crazy situation), and the holidays in general. But I'm still reading.

My book group has chosen (okay, I pushed this one) Anne Enright's Booker-winning The Gathering for our next book, and I'm very excited to read it. And I'm finishing Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, which has been a fantastic read. More on that soon.

14 comments:

Bookgirl's Nightstand said...

I'm sort of interested in seeing the movie but luckily I'm going in with no expectations as I've never read the books.
I want to read the Enright book too.

Gentle Reader said...

iliana--lol, sometimes it's okay not to have read the book, so you have no expectations of the movie! I found it entertaining, and I didn't have any major problems with it, mostly because I didn't read the book! I'll let you know if I like the Enright book :)

J.S. Peyton said...

It seems as if your son had the same problems with the movie I had. I am interested to know what you thought of the movie, having never read the book. I wonder if I'dve had a better opinion of the movie if I hadn't read the just before I saw it.

Literary Feline said...

I am looking forward to seeing The Golden Compass. I haven't read any of the books, but I've followed the media attention it's gotten including the criticism from Christian groups and all the hoopla about the books and the movie. I had read about the movie ending and the concern that if this movie doesn't do well there might not be another.

Gentle Reader said...

j.s.--I didn't love the movie, but I didn't have the same kinds of problems my son had. I didn't like the unfinished feel at the end. I really liked the little girl who played the lead, and thought most of the acting was pretty good. I found the details of the world Pullman created to be absorbing, but I thought the plot was only so-so--very similar to other fantasy stories. Probably much better as a book, as most things are :)

literary feline--I had followed some of the press stuff, too. I was interested in seeing if I thought the movie was anti-religious. I know Pullman is an atheist, but the movie played as more anti-authoritarian religion than anti-God. It was the kind of anti-authoritarian thing anyone could get behind, like in Star Wars, or most fables of the sort. Though the "Magisterium" figures definitely looked like Catholic clergy, so it could be interpreted as anti-Catholic, I guess.

Fay Sheco said...

Gentle Reader, you might be interested in hearing what The Little Professor has to say about the film at her blog.

"Put simply, instead of muttering 'Well, that was atheist' to myself, I found myself muttering 'Well, that was Protestant.'"

Snip.

"The irony, though, is that because the film never attacks religion eo ipso, its supposedly atheistic critique of the Magisterium is indistinguishable from a very traditional (also several centuries' worth) Protestant critique of Catholicism."

Here's the hyperlink to the post, which may need to be copied and pasted into the browser window.
http://littleprofessor.typepad.com/the_little_professor/2007/12/the-golden-comp.html

This is easily the most interesting commentary I've seen on the film, which nobody at our house has seen yet, although my teen-aged son is a fan of the books.

Gentle Reader said...

fay--ooh, thanks for this! It is an interesting review, and I agree with her points about the movie. I definitely saw the anti-Catholic bias, too. But I would add that after reading on Wikipedia (obviously not always a reliable source) about all that was cut out of the movie and why, it sounds like Pullman's atheism was diluted for the film. I wonder--if the film was more true to the book would it seem more anti-God than anti-Catholic? Or would it just seem more glaringly anti-Catholic? I guess it would help if I actually read the book--maybe I could answer my own questions! Anyway, thanks for the link :)

tanabata said...

I've read the books and they also felt more anti-authoritarian than anti-God per se. It's sad so much has been cut from the film but I'm still curious to see it. I saw the live theatre version of it (the 3 books made into 2 plays) and probably because it was staged in London, they kept to the story as much as they could with the constraints of a theatre production. It was excellent!

Gentle Reader said...

tanabata--wow--I had no idea there was a play--that sounds really interesting!

heather (errantdreams) said...

I don't like cliffhanger endings in movies. =/

Honestly, short stories and novellas are about the right length to turn into movies. You cannot turn a full novel into a book without seriously changing things to account for the shorter timespan. Knowing and understanding that ahead of time really helps, because then you can look at it more in terms of, "were the changes good ones?" rather than "omg they changed it!" (Not that you're going to understand that so much when you're 11, though!)

Bookfool said...

I loved Of Human Bondage. The Golden Compass has a cliffhanger ending? Well, forget that! I hate cliffhangers, especially when you have a long wait between installments. Thanks for the warning!

Gentle Reader said...

heather--I completely agree, most good adaptations from fiction to film are novellas or short stories. And this is worse--a series of novels--which makes it even more difficult to end smoothly, when all they're thinking about is the sequel and the sequel's sequel...

bookfool--you're welcome for the warning! And I loved Of Human Bondage. It's such an emotionally affecting novel! Must write about it soon :)

litlove said...

I think my husband and son might go and see this movie today. I'd very much like to read the books with my son but he's been resisting them like mad. I'm just hoping the movie might tip him over into embracing them. One of the questions I give to interview candidates who want to come to Cambridge to study is 'what's the difference between a movie and a novel?' so I am quite ok with films not being like the books they come from. But the cliffhanger ending thing is a pain, I agree.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--let me know what your husband and son think of the movie! I love the question you ask prospective students--would love to hear their answers, and yours :)