So I just saw the Saturday-night sneak of The Golden Compass and I have to say that while the film’s signature polar-bear smackdown is much cooler than just about anything on current release, the last reel represents one of the dumbest things a Hollywood studio has done all year. Yes, Philip Pullman’s novel had a cliffhanger ending — but it was an actual ending, and a pretty great one at that. The movie has no ending; it only has a swelling of strings, an extended VFX shot, and a slow fade to black. Kid-flick audiences are likely accustomed to their status as second-class citizens, and non-readers of Pullman’s trilogy don’t know just how egregious the elision really is (basically, the story’s emotional payload has been excised, or at least deferred to the opening reels of a potential second film), but there’s something deeply unsatisfying about an ending that explicitly promises a confrontation that it declines to deliver. It represents, I think, a failure of nerve. If Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was the product of a studio with big, swinging cojones, this is a release from a studio that’s scared of its own shadow — a studio that had no business adapting the notoriously problematic His Dark Materials trilogy in the first place.