The Golden Compass? More like The Golden Shower!-Yeh I’m losing it…

Yeah I realise this movie came out three years ago but I’m the type to hold a grudge – perhaps this article will provide some closure on the matter, we’ll see. Oh and there’s probably gonna be a shitload of spoilers about the book so stop reading this and start reading that if you haven’t already.

Talking Polar Bear

OK so the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman is probably the best set of fantasy books ever written. They trump “The Lord of the Rings” by not having endless pages of songs about elves, and “Harry Potter” by having a central character that does actually have a character. They’re full of ideas, compelling characters, intricate plotting and talking polar bears for crying out loud – what more could you possibly want? A decent film adaptation? Yeah, me too.

Initially my hopes were high after discovering that “In July 2003 Tom Stoppard was commissioned to write the screenplay.”1 I was excited, New Line had hired an Oscar winner and one of the best all-round genius playwright/script writers ever to adapt the first book-this was good. Then I learnt “The studio rejected Stoppard’s script”1 – this was bad.

I can’t imagine what was wrong with the script, my cynical mind likes to think it was a work of genius and the producers were too fucking stupid to see it but I haven’t read it or met them so I don’t really know. What makes me doubt the producers’ intelligence though, was their decision to then hire Chris Weitz to write the new script and direct it. Chris Weitz! Chris Weitz? Chris Weitz, whose previous films at the time were “American Pie”, “About a Boy” and “American Dreams” and has since gone on to make “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”. It seems bizarre to think that once they’d read Stoppard’s treatment and were unsatisfied, they thought “Who’s that man who filmed Jason Biggs fucking a pie? Only he and he alone could possibly marshal this material.” Obviously they were completely wrong and what he produced was a third degree tear of a film. There are a lot of things I really really dislike about the film, in fact nearly everything about it, but over time I’ve narrowed it down to two main grievances – firstly the removal of religion from the plot and secondly the cutting of the original ending.

Genius, girl and bellend.

The cutting of all mention of religion from the script is just a redonkulous thing to do. It’s not a tiny plot point that can be removed without anyone realising, it informs nearly every aspect of all three books – it would be like taking the rings out of “Lord of the Rings” or the love out of “Love Actually.” I guess the producers were worried about the backlash from churchgoers, but as anyone who has actually read the books will tell you they’re not at all an indictment of faith, but of organised religion and how religion can be used for political means. What really bugs me though is how you can have a fantasy series like “The Chronicles of Narnia” which is so overtly laced with Christian subtext, and not have a series that gives the opposing point of view. I don’t think anybody can say they walked out of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” having found Jesus through the vessel of a CGI lion voiced by Liam Neeson, in the same way they wouldn’t leave “The Golden Compass” a staunch atheist (if they weren’t one before). At the end of the day they’re both works of fiction, and though there is a religious message to them you don’t have to engage with it in any meaningful way or indeed agree with it to enjoy the story. Chris Weitz, in response to the question of why religion was cut from the film, said this:

“So, how does one go about adapting a book that has controversial elements into a film that a very wide variety of people can enjoy, without betraying the original? One tries to be clever about it. I realized that the overt stating of some of the themes in “The Northern Lights”/”The Golden Compass” would never — this is important to make clear — never EVER get across the goal line. There isn’t a wide enough audience for that — yet. If I wanted to popularize this series of extraordinary books and open them to a wider reading public than ever before, I was going to have to make some compromises.”2

Hmmm, although I still resent Chris Weitz for agreeing to compromise in the first place, it seems in this instance that the majority of the blame must be rested at the feet of the producers who seemed to think the anti-organised-religion themes would result in poor box office takings. Obviously though, “this is bullshit”* as I’ll now explain using words. First of all the books are international best sellers, although they haven’t created the same phenomenon as Harry Potter, they’re equally successful in the USA as they are in Britain and the rest of the world. Surely it was the success of the books that caused them to acquire the rights in the first place so it makes absolutely no sense for them to change the books at all. Secondly, historically speaking, any film that has been condemned by a major religious organisation has experienced increased box office takings – see “Life of Brian”, “The Passion of the Christ” etc. Ironically upon release “The Golden Compass” was condemned by the church which begs the question why change the story at all if people are gonna be upset no matter what.

Youngest Bond girl ever?

Now let us move on to my second and even bigger grievance with the film, which is the way they cut the last three chapters of the book – the three chapters which contain a huuuuuge twist. For me, reading that ending for the first time was probably one of the most shocking experiences of my childhood, next to discovering that the people I live with weren’t my actual family, and they cut it out! Why? Why would you do that? For the sake of balance Chris Weitz attempts an answer:

Unhappy baby.

“First, I haven’t “cut” the ending of the first book. I have only moved it to the beginning of the second movie. Some people are distressed by this, citing that the end of the novel is beautiful. Yes, that’s true. “And Lyra and Pan walked off into the sky.” But this ending was posing a problem for the (relatively few) audience-members who saw earlier cuts of the film. What is plangent and beautiful in the end of a novel can be confusing or off-putting in the end of a film. For instance, people who hadn’t read the books (yes, these people exist! And they matter!) didn’t know if Lyra was in fact going to heaven. My job is to make sure that ALL of Pullman’s story will be told, not to flame out gloriously with one film. The juncture at which to leave audiences hoping for more was before Lyra sets off to find Asriel. She has fulfilled the intitial reason for her journey (to save her friend Roger), but there is a further tangible aim for her. Yes, I get that this means delaying some brilliant scenes from the book. But trust me, they would have been less brilliant if they had to meet the demands (as interpreted by the studio) of a movie-going audience for the end of the film.”2

Yeh, so he’s compromised the complete integrity of the book because a few people had a problem understanding what’s going on. Basically what you’re trying to say, Chris, is that when you shot the ending you made such a pig’s ear of it that as a result audience members found it confusing. What angers me is that he tries to lay the blame with the book – if he had any idea what he was doing the ending would not only be perfectly clear, but also incredibly shocking and all kinds of awesome. Also surely if you intend to make a sequel you want the first film to have an ending that will make the audience want to see the second, and surely the most effective way of doing that is by using the one from the book which is one mother of a cliff-hanger. Also his explanation for choosing the ending he did is completely flawed. You could watch “The Golden Compass” knowing nothing of the books and just assume it’s a standalone movie, the only loose plot thread is that they haven’t got Daniel Craig back yet but it would perfectly reasonable for the audience to assume that they’ll go off and rescue him and it’ll be all happy families. If they had started the second film with the ending of the first book, it would seem more like a contrivance to justify the sequel rather then the satisfying twist it is.

Oscar-winning special effects.

There’s so much more I could say about why I hate this film – the way they cut out the bit with Stanislaus Grumman’s head (the whole basis of the plot for the sequels), the way the dialogue is terrible, the way the direction is competent at best of times but I’ve kind of said my piece already and also i’m an incredibly lazy writer. I guess the one upside to the whole thing is that the film was so bad they didn’t get enough money to green light the sequels which they would have inevitably ruined as well.

Oh and one last thing it’s called “The Northern Lights” ok, and it’s not a golden compass it’s an alethiometer.

Cheers for reading,

DannyMoran

1-Wikipedia (obviously)

2-http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2007/11/14/golden-compass-director-chris-weitz-answers-your-questions-part-i/

*Obligatory Wire reference

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  1. I was also beyond disappointed with this book. You hit every nail on the head regarding why the movie sucked. My only hope is that years from now, someone will remake the movie and capture a tiny glimpse of the book’s awesomeness!

    • Bunk
    • September 13th, 2010

    Yeah, just really wanna read northern lights again now.

  1. July 18th, 2011

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