Friday, May 04, 2007

Milton the Monster, Dept.

the golden compass

Your sobsister has been awaiting this adaptation with what might be called an amalgam of Christmas-morning jitters and pants-soiling fear.

On the one hand, it's got a top-drawer cast and the stills look sumptuous and beautiful.

On the other hand, despite its surface appearance, the original novel, The Golden Compass--and, indeed, all of the His Dark Materials trilogy--is not for children. At least not in the way that the Harry Potter series is. I mean, sure, child protagonist has adventures in a steampunk fantasy world, what's not to kaa-chinnggg for Hollywood? But the original stories are dark and wrenching and philosophically-dense and virulently anti-religion and wonderful for that reason. And unless they've gutted the fuck out of them, not exactly a holiday season sell: "Oh, Mother, do let's go see that wonderful new children's film based on Milton's Paradise Lost that excoriates organized religion with a cat o'nine tails!" My fear is that, gauzed by CGI candy-floss, the author, Philip Pullman's, message and tone will have been lost for fear of alienating the popcorn-snarfin', soda-guzzlin' Xtians here in the Land of the Free and the Home of Cross-Merchandising Synergies.

Frankly, the tagline has me worried. While "The Compass Will Show The Way" is excellent and true to the heart of the first book, "There Are Worlds Beyond Our Own" seems a bit over-determined, no?, given the appearance of an armored polar bear and all. I mean, this isn't March of the Penguins II: Deathstalker!. And while I am hardly a Tinseltown marketing boffin, it seems somehow, I don't know, fucking wrong perhaps? to include a spoiler in the tagline. I mean, 20th Century Fox didn't advertise The Empire Strikes Back with "The Adventure Continues...and Somebody is Somebody Else's Unexpected Father!", did they? So, I'm really reallyreally hoping that the director and screenwriter(s) didn't think, "Hmmm...ambitious work, worrisome message, audience of gormless goobers and gomers...okay, let's use Dumbdown Package No. 5a: Pretty Colors, Twinkly Lights".

I mean, this poster looks wonderful and I'm sure that the CGI and set/costume design will aim to frame and underpin this adaptation as well as they did the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But I had the extreme pleasure of seeing a marathon stage adaptation of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, London. It was as wonderful an evening at theater as I've ever spent. Was there fantastically-imaginative stagecraft employed to make vivid and visible the varying locations and characters of the story? Certainly. But never in a way that even vaguely obscured the fact that there were actors on stage mesmerizing you with a moving, gripping story that lived and breathed and sank its hooks into you for over six hours. Intelligent and sensitive integration of son et lumière, not its substitution for story, characterization, and mood, is what can keep any literary adaptation from becoming a soulless facsimile. That and remaining true to the spirit of the original work without compromise for reasons of marketability or palatability.

If New Line and Chris Weitz can remain true to the story and to the message, they'll have achieved something even more difficult than Peter Jackson's translation of LOTR to the screen.

Because it is ever-so much harder to make your audiences enjoy a vein of vinegar in their sweets than one of honey.


Dogwoman said...

I, too, have been waiting for this film,deathly afraid that they have turned it into a glitz no substance fest. Especially after I read an article in which the director promised to take out all references to God.(i.e organized religion) Let's hope he was lying for the media.


the sobsister said...

oh, sweet Jeebus, I hope so. removing all references to God from The Golden Compass is like removing all references to slavery from Gone With The Wind.