01 January 2008

A Dull Adaptation, and There Wasn't Enough of It

There's an old joke about people complaining that the food at a resort is almost inedible, and what's more, the servings are too small. The Golden Compass movie fits that model. It was disappointingly shallow and pedestrian, but probably could have been exciting and rich if there had only been more of it.

The cast was well chosen and the scenes' visuals, with one exception (which I'll discuss tomorrow), are handsome, and I could have spent much more time in those settings. The dialogue, however, leaps so desperately from one expository moment to another that there's little room for character development.

New York magazine's comparison of two early scripts for The Golden Compass with each other and the final film traces what could have been:

Like many fans, we'd always assumed that [Tom] Stoppard's draft must have been a work of genius, and that his replacement by [Chris] Weitz surely doomed the project. Much to our surprise, upon reading the screenplays, we're wrong. Had Stoppard's screenplay been filmed, the movie would have been ponderous, a bit dull, and far too long. Weitz's original script was actually great and makes us sad about the movie that could have been. . . .

Weitz's early draft, though still long — 156 pages and likely three hours of running time — is sharper, funnier, and more streamlined than Stoppard's. It's also more exciting, more coherent, and significantly better than the final product. . . . Why was this all cut? Presumably, to keep the film to two hours. . . . In the end it was that decision more than any other that doomed The Golden Compass to mediocrity.

Most notably, of course, both early screenplays contain the end of the book, the crucial sequence cut from the movie entirely so that its ending would remain uplifting.
Chris Kohler at Wired agreed that, "Many of the problems with Golden Compass can be blamed squarely on the film's run time."

Rope of Silicon has posted a link to some footage cut from the end of the movie but included in the videogame. Stills from the same scene show up in picture-book adaptations of the movie, so the cut must have come relatively late. Obviously Weitz filmed something like the book's ending, but in concurrence with New Line studio cut those final scenes to make the movie shorter and less downbeat.

IMDB.com confirms something I’d suspected: those final scenes might show up at the start of a Subtle Knife movie, should one be made from the second book in Philip Pullman's trilogy. There the footage would serve as a bridge from Lyra's adventure to the new story (which starts with a different protagonist), and establish the stakes in the new plot. But will that movie now be made, given The Golden Compass's lackluster domestic earnings? The all-important worldwide box office figures will say.


Jared said...

New Line Cinema has finally decided to start on The Hobbit, but it was announced right after Golden Compass' first weekend. Seemingly an attempt to get into a movie that already has a guaranteed profit.

Seemingly, Golden Compass will go the way of Eragon. But... we'll see.

vijay said...

golden compass may have its fault,but still it is a brilliant movie.i would recommend people to watch this movie.
and i a hoping for a sequel,as i have read the subtle knife and amber spyglass,they would make wonderful movies.

Monica Edinger said...

First of all, your metaphor made me think of attending an educational technology conference many, many years ago at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills. I was overwhelmed at the menu choices for dessert and so the waiter (a stereotypic Catskill one) got fed up waiting for me to decide, stomped off, and came back with a huge tray consisting of every single dessert. My table (filled with keynote speakers) thought it was hilarious as he placed them all in front of me. Of course they were huge servings too --- all lousy.

As for the film, I sort of agree and sort of don't. I felt there were some really strong scenes, same really bad ones (notably the ending), and overall not enough time to connect to any of it really. So I guess I see it more as a gulping down of good and bad food rather than it all being tasteless. Hmm...maybe like the feast in Looking-glass? Or isn't there a scene of that sort in The Phantom Tollbooth?

J. L. Bell said...

Considering the source material, the talent, and the production values/budget, there was a lot to enjoy in The Golden Compass, but I'd hoped for much more.

Somehow I didn't think the ingredients came together to create an exciting crescendo of experience, with a couple of exceptional moments. More thoughts later today.