Yesterday we saw “The Golden Compass”, the film adaptation of the first of three excellent novels by Philip Pullman. The churchies have been all up in arms about this one, calling it blasphemous and evil and anti-Christian — basically just like they do with everything else they feel threatened by. They’re convinced that Hollywood is out to get them, to lure the young ‘uns into the roasty arms of Satan. (That job should belong to all of us, not just Hollywood…but I digress!) In this story, the characters are pitted against a vast religious organization which tries to control everyone’s lives in the guise of “knowing what’s best.” Sound familiar? Yeah, of course the churchies are freaked out. It’s quite toned down in the movie (compared to the book), but it’s obviously the Church they’re up against. Free will is what’s at stake, and as usual some have a problem with that.
Of course, if you’ve read the books you know that the story gets even more controversial — I won’t give it away but let’s just say that it’s more blasphemous than the concept of Jesus being a family man, as in “The Da Vinci Code.” Pretty interesting stuff for books aimed at the teen set, I’d say. And yet, once you realize what the characters are really doing, it’s not what you initially thought. There are lots of twists and turns in this one, but as expected we still hear how these books (and the movie) will destroy our childrens’ faith in God, blah-blah-blah. I love the fact that the real-life churchies are reacting exactly the way their movie counterparts would.
Anyway, we enjoyed the movie quite a bit. It did feel a bit disjointed or rushed at times, where new characters would drop in out of nowhere and then be on their way before they had time to develop much, but overall the pacing was brisk and got all the important story elements in there, communicating the story’s central ideas and never seeming to lose steam. (A different choice in directors would likely have smoothed out those rushed bits.) The effects were top notch as well, bending human and GCI characters together flawlessly. And the way the armored bear fight ended (you know what I mean if you’ve seen it) was so unexpected that many in the the audience gasped, something I don’t hear at the movies often. That was kinda cool.
What I don’t understand is why so many people are calling the movie a “box office failure” only after one weekend! Rottentomatoes.com currently indicates that 44% of critics and 62% of the rest of us liked it. Much to my surprise, Roger Ebert gave it four stars, calling it “a darker, deeper fantasy epic” than the recent Rings, Harry Potter, or Narnia movies. However, a lot of review headlines are declaring it a failure simply because it didn’t gross as much as they were expecting in its first weekend…and yet it’s been the #1 movie since Friday. So they’re not even going to wait until overseas earnings are worked into the mix? This happens a lot nowadays in all forms of media…if some pop star or author puts out some new work and it sold 2 million copies in its first week, the “experts” automatically call it a failure because they expected 3 million, even if it sold twice as much as their previous work. WTF?
I hope the studio doesn’t listen to this “failure” bullshit…they need to get the ball rolling on the next two films and tell the rest of the story. And hopefully they’ll do it right! So if you saw the movie, what did you think? If you haven’t read the books, did it make sense at all? And if you did read the books, how do you think they did with the movie?