Against the Grain

Slightly more than just jibba jabba

Movie Review: The Golden Compass

Posted by Patrick on 7 Dec 2007

I went to see the long-awaited “The Golden Compass” today, based on the first story of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman.  Before I try somewhat feebly to comment on how this movie played out socially and theologically for the uber-religious freaks that think all movies that mention God are evil in echelons of ways, I want to talk about the movie itself and how it relates to the book.

***SPOILER ALERT:  Below this line, I am giving away the movie in bits and pieces.  If you don’t want to read a spoiler for any reason whatsoever, you should stop reading this post here.  Thanks for visiting and have a splendid day.***

I knew from the outset of this movie that we’re looking at an episodic event, since the movie’s opening sequence features a cut in the world made by the subtle knife (from book 2).  It turned out that I was right, and that gave me a bit of a “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” shudder before 5 minutes had even passed.  I was disappointed, but I think it was tastefully done, and it helps to set the stage for the movie for people who’ve not read the story.  Dakota Blue Richards’ opening voiceover about the existence of other worlds as that sequence is playing does well to set the story, but if you’ve read the story you know that she doesn’t understand the “other worlds” concept and traveling between them until the second book; it gives her narration a bit of a retrospect — are we going to see something present-day at the end of the trilogy’s movies?  More on that later.

Despite the 1h54m runtime, I thought the anachronism in the movie (scenes extracted out of order from the book) made sense to me, though I felt penalized because I knew the story when events didn’t fire in my pre-set sequence.  An example of this is the first sequence with Lyra – they are playing and talking about the gobblers, and then she finds herself stuck in the retiring room coat closet.  This is the other way around in the book if I remember properly.  There are several other occurrences like this that are subtle, but they still play well with the story.

What I would have liked was to leave the witches’ liaison intact where Lyra uses the alethiometer to identify Serafina’s cloud-pine branch outside.  It made sense later, because the witches were flying without it in the big battle scene.  In the story, I thought this was a critical point.  It was unclear how Serafina and her clan were able to come to aid at Bolvangar – and overall I felt the roles of the witches were downplayed, probably on purpose to appease the anti-magical-people-in-fictitious-movies sect of organized western religions.

I want to say now that I detested the ending of the movie, but I understand why it is this way.  The second story is pretty short in movie terms, as it’s the shortest of the three stories in the trilogy.  But it certainly does lead us to believe that “The Subtle Knife” will be even more episodic than this movie was.  We are going to see the opening sequence of the second movie leading Lyra and Roger up to watch Roger die and everyone will step into another world for the first time.

Now, let’s discuss briefly the religious impact of this movie and why religious “experts” are crying out against it.

First, I have to say that I am not devoutly dedicated to any religion, but I am a Zen Buddhist of the Rinzai sect; my primary temple is in Kyoto as is the master to whom I pledged.  For you Protestants, think of it as the church where you first began to accept/practice your current denomination.

Now that the table’s set, let’s chat.  There is a lot of public outcry over this movie.  People say that this movie defies God (each word is a separate link).  People generally complain that this movie is written by an atheist, that they google the book and the results are controversial topics like “female castration”, that the movie is about kids who set out to kill God.

First of all, these people are idiots.  Maybe I shouldn’t say that — these people are f’ing idiots.  Yes, that’s better.  Ill-informed religious propaganda based on search results from Google, of all places, and based on the author’s personal religious views. People who say that this book movie is about kids who want to kill God, well, they are not only wrong, they are f’ing wrong.  If you want an accurate plot summary of the movie, go look at IMDb — not Google, not your church’s bulletin board, not your archdiocese email distribution list, and certainly not what your church-friend’s-friend’s-pastor’s-uncle is saying about it.

Secondly, Phillip Pullman didn’t write the screenplay, it was Chris Weitz.  Chris Weitz adapted the screenplay from the novel by Phillip Pullman.  Quick you freaks, go Google Chris Weitz and see if he’s an atheist that wants to kill God or write an anti-religion manifesto.  Go stand outside New Line Cinemas and see if you get drag Chris Weitz into the parking lot and throw holy water on him and flash aluminum foil crosses in his eyes so he might go blind.  Let me know how that works out.

Thirdly, Pullman’s book isn’t based on his own ideas (gasp! oh noes!1!!1), whether he may support the ideas or not is irrelevant.  For anyone who has actually read some literature in their lifetime and who has an average level of intelligence, it is more than obvious that Pullman’s stories are based on John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.  His Dark Materials is based on it, and the actual term “His Dark Materials” is taken directly from it, as in the verse cut below:

Into this wild Abyss,
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds—
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II

Next time you want to bash a movie because it doesn’t bode well from google, but the trailer looks good, and it’s rated PG-13, here’s a news flash – it’s probably a pretty good movie.  People are saying that it’s trying to promote atheism within children, which is of course a lie, but those people are the same ones who were on the “ban HP books in school libraries” bandwagon because it was about wizards and witches and wanted it replaced with C.S.Lewis’ books about wizards and witches.  I don’t buy your uninformed arguments; I choose to act of my own free will, I choose to let my opinions be formed by myself and not by those who seek to propagandize their discontent, I choose to believe what I feel is best rather than blindly obey out of sheer ignorance.  If you think that’s wrong, fine, but I don’t want to hear about it.

Summary

I thought the movie was slightly above mediocre; I’d give it 3 of 4 stars if I had to rate it.  The acting was ok, the locations were beautifully framed and the chosen scenery was great. The CG and other effects were very good.  The theme sung by Kate Bush at the end I thought was awful – it sounded more like a balladic jam session with a choir.

Dakota Blue Richards stole the show in this movie, but I really wanted to see her be afraid and act like she was actually overcoming something. Maybe we’ll see that in the next book.

Nicole Kidman was about as hot as she has ever been; I thought she played the role of Mrs. Coulter fairly well. But I really wanted to see some emotion out of her, and we didn’t get much except for the deceitful undertones we got from Mrs. Coulter in the story.

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