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.

4 Replies to “Intercision”

  1. “…but there’s something deeply unsatisfying about an ending that explicitly promises a confrontation that it declines to deliver.”

    Many feel the same way about “No Country for Old Men.” Would you agree? Have you even seen it yet? That screening log of yours is in desperate need of an update.

  2. Sorry, this may not have been the best entry to ask questions about “No Country,” but I’d really be interested to know what you think. Having not seen it myself, and despite trying not to pick up on too many spoilers, I may very well have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick from skimming over reviews. Perhaps the ending is a little more concrete than I’ve been led to believe? Was it the difference between a B+ and a higher grade?

  3. Hey, sorry about the delay — I was mulling it over but hadn’t really had time to sit down and, you know, write a response.

    The difference between No Country and Golden Compass is that No Country ends the way it does deliberately, and for good reasons (I mean reasons of authorial intention, rather than whether it satisfies you/me as a viewer) while Golden Compass ends completely arbitrarily, and presumably because the studio was afraid of hewing closely to the source material, which ends on a bit of a downer. (And it’s an important downer, because nothing in the third book would make sense without it.)

    Anyway, to directly answer your question, the ending of No Country for Old Men isn’t what (slightly) disappointed me. The ending isn’t very “concrete” but it seems pretty final to me. I think I still have residual issues with the Coens — the parts of No Country For Old Men that felt bogus to me were the bits where their own particular style showed through the material clearly, and I suppose those are the parts that others may treasure the most. But while No Country is an highly efficient and uncommonly faithful adaptation of its source material, it feels to me like its tale of existential despair keeps verging on smug black comedy. I think black humor is a perfectly legitimate way to approach horrible things in both film and literature, but in this material there’s a disconnect — the casting and direction of Bardem is a stroke, to be sure, but it’s also the film’s most self-conscious selling point, and it felt occasionally phony to me, like Chigurh was forever on the verge of giggling helplessly from underneath that pageboy haircut.

    So there’s a lack of conviction, or at least clarity, that left me somewhat wanting in this case. I agree with much of what Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote for the Chicago Reader, although I don’t disdain the moral standing of this kind of serial-killer movie as he seems to.

    Well, how’s that for a convoluted response? Thanks for the notes!

  4. Thanks for the superb response, Bryant. I’m definitely a big fan of the brothers’ films, so those overtly Coen-esque moments should go down well on this end.

    By the way, “Daisy Kenyon” has just gone up for pre-order over at Yay in my opinion.

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