Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Golden Compass - The Film

Why exactly were Christians suggesting boycotting the film "The Golden Compass"? I recently saw the film and cannot see any reason for it. So I must assume it has something to do with the book it was based on, which I haven't read yet.

I did start it though, so I guess I'll know more when I'm done. I can say that in the first fifty pages the young heroine, Lyra, is depicted drinking liquor and smoking cigarettes, which is not surprsingly missing from the film. But if that is the type of thing leading to boycotts, almost every religious person I've ever known needs to be boycotted - but that's a subject for another time.

I can only look at the film I actually saw and offer a few thoughts. It was a spectacular looking film, for the most part. The animal daemons (or souls - hmm, maybe that's the issue) were extraordinary, brilliantly animated and a major piece of the movie's charm. As well, the directing, acting and production were at a high level. The young actress playing Lyra, the main character, was brilliant.

I can't discuss how the book was translated to screen yet, but I can say that in the screenwriting there were some problems.

When a book is made into a movie, which in Hollywood seems to be a large majority of the releases, there is an outcry over what is lost, missing, changed and, as the criticism usually implies, destroyed in the translation. One need only search out Tolkien scholars' discussions of Peter Jackson's trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. But I will say this - as movies, Jackson's work held up on their own and were seamless. Confusion was held to a minimum. Whether they adapted Tolkien's work correctly is irrelevant to this discussion - they were straightforward and spectacular Hollywood films, if you like that sort of thing. And they made sense.

Which is not to say that "The Golden Compass" does not make sense. It just seemed to miss opportunities to give us more information. It rolls along and we must accept what we are told and roll with it. But we sense a deeper backstory of which we know nothing. Perhaps when I finish the book, this feeling will go away.

But a book and a movie are completely different entities. You should never have to experience both to understand either. I hold to an old adage that the book is always better than the movie, but cinema is such a huge canvas that it is increasingly the only way people come to know the written works of the world. So they need to get it right.

A land of giant polar bears, a bunch of witches and a prophecy about Lyra that everyone seems to know, but that we are never told, are all elements that made me wonder what world we were actually on. World-building is a very important topic in fantasy criticism. The examination of how a world is constructed and whether all the elements fit together to unify the created world as a place we can accept is essential to belief in the story. In The Golden Compass, I never could figure out exactly how the world so spectacularly shown on-screen was held together. When the witch shows up for the first time, I actually had a "huh?" in my mind. Witches? And when the witch army is shown in silhouette on their brooms in the air, I first thought, "Ah, that's cool," but then, "Huh?" again. We did not know enough about this world for all these elements to add up.

I believe the book will do a better job, as in the first fifty pages Lyra has a run in with some ghosts due to some of her constant trouble making. A detail like this may have made the witches seem less out of place. The story still made enough sense that unaddressed questions did not take away from the visual splendor. Ultimately, as a Hollywood movie, it was an enjoyable ride. When your second most important character is a giant polar bear, and it works, you are definitely having some fun at the theater.


(BiM)–The Chronicles said...

I see why Christians didn't go to the golden compass. It was pretty anti-religion.

Joe Muszynski said...

Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment, but I can't say I saw anything in the movie that was anti-religion. If you could give some specific examples, that would be great.

Cleo said...

The manistrate (I think that's how it's spelled) represents the Catholic church in many ways.

The manistrate, in the movie, purposely hide science from the public eye and force their views on the common people. Religions are infamous for doing both of these acts.

Joe Muszynski said...

The group is actually called the Magisterium, but I do not believe the film shows them hiding science, in general, from the public. What they do hide is their experiment in removing children's daemons - which in the context of the film is so poorly explained that to call it "anti-religion" shows that you have probably read all of Pullman's trilogy.

And yes, the Magisterium, at least some of them, are trying to force their views on other people. But religious leaders are not the only people in the world trying to do that. If forcing your views on someone constitutes religion, there are a lot of people to call religious out there - starting with various biased media outlets.

Media as religion? There's a thought.