9 December 2007

The Golden Compass (4/5)

Went Friday night at Atlantic Station and thoroughly enjoyed it [ IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. Good turnout too; it's fun to see a movie on opening night in a packed room (as long as I get a good seat) and with an appreciative crowd.

I had only heard of the books over the last year reading random comments on geek sites. Apparently, it's what the younger geek grows up with (for me, it was the Dune trilogy). Their love of the books made me curious. The only other bits I had heard were from an email that a co-worker at this hypothetical company received. It was from a manager in a different group, addressed to their subordinates, and accidentally cced to my co-worker. In it was what I'm sure was boiler-plate fire and brimstone from some Catholic League rep. Inappropriateness in the workplace aside, it was somewhat funny.

At around 30 minutes into the movie, when Lyra escapes from Marisa Coulter, I was completely invested in the characters. The young actress who plays Lyra, Dakota Blue Richards, was outstanding as a precocious child that was not "acty" or annoying. There was little of Daniel Craig, but his role will continue in (hopefully) subsequent movies. Nicole Kidman was Eee-Vil. The other standout was Lyra's CGI daemon, Pantalaimon. CGI has come a long way from Lucas' horrific He Who Shall Not Be Named, and Pan was absolutely wonderful. Finally, I was impressed with the look of the film. The cinematography had a glossy brightness to it that could be contrasted (not unfavorably) to LotR's more earthy tones.

The Christian outrage with the film comes from author Pullman's notorious my books are about killing god quote. Boycotts were called on primarily by Dobson's evangelical Focus on the Family and the Donahue's Catholic League. Other religious groups have specifically supported the movie. And, to emphasize a point from the author, his books are about organized religion as a whole and not any specific religion.

From this set up, I went into the movie looking for metaphor. After a few distractions I decided that movie-as-puzzle is not as enjoyable as movie-as-story. The metaphors would wait till the end, and that allowed me space to enjoy the characters and story. The story is as much about the abuses of organized religion as it is about the abuses of any fascist government. Children are taught to limit their beliefs and ignore reality by being indoctrinated early on with religious/nationalist dogma (think Soviet media control or American nationalism). The poor and disaffected are targeted with the most aggressive tactics because they are the people the least likely to be defended (think European Jews or any of the African genocides). A good metaphor can attack multiple targets.

How can I dismiss Christian outrage with this film but accept my own criticism of The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, and 300? Granted, 300 is the only one I've seen, but I don't go in for the you-have-to-see-it-to-understand argument. If a movie presents itself as historically accurate and botches facts, those are easily debatable without attending a screening. All three of those movies were criticized by historians familiar with the times in question, in an attempt to address the directors' posturing of accuracy, and were shown to contain not insubstantial errors. That was my primary complaint. My secondary complaint was that these errors were introduced to produce cheap effect. Finally, at least for 300, after seeing the film I was baffled why a shallow spectacle was being praised as one of the most meaningful films people have seen (this from comments people had made to me). How to explain what was nothing more than a visually stunning Jason and the Argonauts being instead taken as the apotheosis of socio-political philosophy? And of two people I know who saw 300, the first sentence of praise from them, emphasizing its importance in their appreciation of the film, contained the statement "and it's a true story." In that there was a battle, yes. But when the details are so infelicitously manhandled, the story's historical bragging rights should be considerably diminished. The creators boasted of historic fidelity, failed on major points, and then fans declared that such criticism was nitpicking. "It's just a movie" was the most common retort, I believe. You can't have it both ways.

[ posted by sstrader on 9 December 2007 at 4:42:44 PM in Cinema ]