Friday, January 18, 2008

The Golden Compass

In noting that the second and third books of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy are not going to be filmed, because of the poor response to the first one, Kyle Smith has, in my opinion, assumed facts not in evidence.
In an article in the December Atlantic, Hanna Rosin wrote about [Chris] Weitz’s evident frustrations in making [The Golden Compass]. (After he first agreed to do it, he dropped out, fearing either the Christian Right or the atheist followers of the book, then changed his mind again, then alarmed fanboys by basically telling them that he was going to water everything down to please his studio masters. ) Rosin’s article was well-reported and even-keeled; it was a detailed look at how Weitz was trying to make a film that was both faithful to the book and a financial success. He’ll be (falsely) remembered as failing to dilute the book’s atheism enough; what was left of the story, supposedly, was still enough to repel the average Christian. (Actually, the movie died because it was confusing and starred an actress audiences don’t like.)

The movie may have been confusing - I don't know, I haven't seen it. And maybe some audiences don't like Nicole Kidman, though that's not something that I was aware of, and her presence wouldn't prevent me from watching a movie that I wanted to see.

So I'm not going to say that there's nothing to what he's saying there. But I'm skeptical that either of those factors was determinative in the film's box-office results. I think that there's more to it.

I believe that it doesn't matter, in the long run, how much they toned down the anti-religious subtext of the books. It doesn't matter to me. I'm someone who loves to go to the movies, who has four kids who love to go to the movies, and who looks forward to movies that we can go out to see as a family. When something comes out that works as a family movie, in general, we see it. And we don't necessarily wait to see the critical reviews, and even if we did, this film got decent reviews from the critics that I read.

But I wasn't going to see it. It doesn't, as I said, matter whether they denuded the story of atheist prosletyzing or not. I wasn't going to spend money supporting Phillip Pullman. Period. I'm certain that I'm not the only one who felt that way.

It should not surprise anyone that a work whose fundamental premise demonstrates contempt for the deeply held beliefs of a large portion of its target audience fails to achieve financial success.

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