Friday, December 14, 2007


Interesting interview with Philip Pullman here. I'm still recovering from the film, to be honest. I went with doubts. I already knew that Tom Stoppard's script had been junked for being "too metaphysical; sat down in the deep plush seats at the Picturehouse knowing that Stoppard's film was the one I wanted to see.

But the film had a glorious opening, with glittering, neurological webs of CGI dust against the eerie sound of throat-singing. My heart lifted. And sank almost immediately.

Oh, the animals. The animals. The daemons. No excuse. None. Poor, poor, poor. Sometimes I wish CGI had never been, um, born. I single out for particular opprobrium the red-tailed hawk on Ma Costa's shoulder, which resembled nothing so much as one of those Taiwanese polystyrene bird-models, with the fat face of a bad cartoon. And Lyra's daemon in its cat-form? Pah.

What would be so difficult about sticking a real raven on someone's shoulder? Or using a real polecat, or a real cat, or rat, for crying out loud? Unforgiveable.

Sam Neill was glorious. The other-world Oxford was glorious. The film was very beautiful. Lyra was excellent. Mrs Coulter was genuinely unsettling. Farder Coram was perfect.

Apart from that, meh.

Meh, meh, meh. The music turned to sub-standard LOTR, and the apparent necessity for a little crescendo of drama every five minutes—presumably to keep the kids awake—sat so uneasily with the story arc that I swear, at times, you could see the light of irrelevancy and embarrassment flicker in the actors' eyes.

Sanitised horribly. The great fight between two armour-clad polar-bears ends with one bear, in the book, ripping out the other's throat. In the film, jaws closed around a throat, and tore. And there was no blood. None. The victor reared up and roared, and there was no gore. Not that I'm baying for blood, but it should have been there. This sort of lily-liverishness is worse, in my mind, than any amount of theological bowdlerism. They're fighting polar bears, by all that is holy! They have mass, and teeth, and flesh, and predatory will. They war. That is what they do. The fight in the book is intelligent, horrible, exhausting, tiring, and bloody. The battle in the film was none of those things; was as daft as a bit of high-camp World Wrestling Entertainment silliness. It was empty, bloodless, and patronising as hell. Bambi was more realistic.

I am mightily disappointed. Even though I went to the film expecting it to be bad, I still felt betrayed as I walked out.

It has no soul. No heart. It flaps and freaks. It tells us nothing of sacrifice and of love and freedom and family. All the things the book articulates faultlessly, and with such frightening, grave grace.

Oh, I do sound sour. I am. Go back to the books. Go back to them and rejoyce in words.


indigoGlyph said...

Thanks - I would have gone, but now think I won't. But I had no idea Stoppard had written an earlier script! And William Gibson had a similar experience with one of the Alien sequels. Why choose not to translate the very essence of the book you've chosen? It makes no sense, dammit.

James Purdon said...

Agreed on almost everything, except Lyra. You think that moppet can act?

I thought the bearfight was pretty good. In the book, as I recall, one bear rips the other's jaw off, and that seems to happen in the film. (Though it cuts to wide-angle, just so the kiddies don't have jawless-gaping-ursus-maritimus nightmares.)

All in all, though, major disappointment...

Wrap up warm in Maine.