I saw The Golden Compass last Friday in spite of all the warnings I heard telling me not to see it. I came away with a few thoughts –mostly from a filmmaking perspective– so I figured I’d channel them here.
I’m just gonna come out and say it: the film blows. Visually speaking, it’s quite impressive –it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but still, the guys who did the effects and animation deserve a round of applause. However, that’s all the credit I think it deserves.
If this movie succeeds at the box office it’s only because of its advertising. Even then I suspect the DVD sales will be rather pathetic. If last weekend’s box office numbers are any indication (a mere $25.7 million), the movie is far from being a success.
Based on what I’ve heard about the books, it’s an atheistic fantasy targeted at children. A sort of counterattack to Narnia, if you will. The first thing I noticed is that it was too broad and too shallow. They tried to create a rich fantasy world on par with Lord of the Rings or at least Narnia, but in doing so it felt too forced and superficial. This caused me to disconnect myself from the story at a couple points. I became disinterested and bored once I realized how shallow and illogical everything felt.
I thought maybe it was just me who didn’t “get it” until the movie was over. The music swells into something triumphant as the screen fades to black. In that moment before the credits began to roll I found myself wondering, “Is it really over? I feel like I’m missing something?” Then I heard about half a dozen people within earshot of me saying, “That’s it??” It leaves you hanging not in suspense but in confusion.
Granted, the movie is part of a trilogy. The story really isn’t finished yet, so in that regard it makes sense that it didn’t feel complete. However, a good storyteller (say, Tolkien or JK Rowling) knows how to lead an audience through parts of a story in such a way that they can stand on their own. That’s simply not the case with TGC.
My confusion about the film led me down another rabbit trail. “If this is aimed at children, then why am I having such a hard time understanding it?” Children’s stories need to be simple. There’s nothing simple about this movie.
As humans we have an inherent perception of the “story” built into us; this is especially true with children. You’ve got hero, the villain, and the reward. The hero must defeat the villain to get the reward. It’s good vs bad. Black and white. Simple.
However, the message behind TGC is atheism. Children are not naturally atheists; that’s just not how we’re wired. Atheism is complicated. When you take God out of the picture you’re left with a lot of explaining to do. That’s exactly the case with this movie. In order for it to make sense, it must be terribly complicated. And it is just that: terrible and complicated.