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.

Books Into Movies and Awaiting The Golden Compass


For a long time I was resistant to the idea of making a point of reading novels that were being made into films. If a noted filmmaker’s reading list intersects your own, then fine — but I’m generally more interested in the film qua film than I am in its relationship with the source material, unless said source material is uncommonly fine. I found complaints about changes made by Peter Jackson to the Tolkien mythology to be tediously petty, especially since the films turned out so well (and also because the books bored my pants off as a youngster), and although I suppose I’m grateful when a talented critic nutshells the vagaries of a particular book-to-film adaptation, I seldom feel the need to do the kind of homework required to elucidate that process myself. At the end of the screening, after all, the film needs to stand on its own.

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