Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Golden Compass: There's Gold in That There Dust!

I just got out of a sneak preview for "The Golden Compass" and am happy to report it is not just a solid adaptation, but a fine movie in its own right.

The soul of the book is in the movie: its sense of fun seriousness, on a scale that ranges effortlessly from a gob of mud in a child's hand to the entire multiverse.

Visually, it is delightful, as if Maxfield Parrish had discovered steampunk.The quick and efficient script omits what it must (as is usual in adapting a book to the big screen) yet adds much by the fact of acting (who could be a better Mrs. Coulter than Nicole Kidman? Her first smile tells us all we think we need to know.)

I find it very respectful of the audience for the film not to explain too much. For example, book has to have Iorek explain to Lyra how his duel with Ragnar ends, since there are no images except that created in the mind. The movie just has it happen; viewers must figure it out by comparing his state just before the climactic blow and to that immediately afterwards.

The daemons, by literally exposing a person's soul, take the place of soliloquies or comic sidekicks. The story also goes faster because it keeps its secrets. It is a tale of discovery, and not all the discoveries have been made by its end. Besides, the protagonist is a young teen from whom The Adults Are Keeping Secrets; it's delightful that the audience shares the protagonist's mystification. Who should Lyra be trusting anyway?

I see that some critics complain that it's anti-Christian. I suspect that if the movie had dressed its Authority in desert robes and had it issue fatwas, they would be applauding it, or at least feeling smug. Surely institutional churches should have by now realized the error of assuming unto themselves the supremacy of God; history shows that never goes well, and that is basically the theology of the work.

But, anyway, it's only a movie (and the book is only a book). Surely "The True God" cannot be harmed by such, and in fact would be amused to have so serious a discussion of the nature of the soul, of Good and Evil, of Authority and Free Will.

I hope the trilogy is completed. But should it fail through an irrational Boxoffice or by the intercession of a justly enraged Authority, the sheer coolness of the film should turn viewers to the books, which further exposes them to the perils of Dust.

P.S. You could view this as the start of a triology about the ultimate dysfunctional family.

* The Golden Compass (movie)
* The Golden Compass (book) Random House site
* Critics say ‘The Golden Compass’ is an atheist agenda disguised in fantasy Kansas City Star
* My Golden Compass Sets a True Course

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