Finally saw it. Yeah, I know. A billion gazillion people have reviewed the movie and Christians everywhere have lopped-off its head, dug its grave with a rusty spade and set the tombstone high and crooked above the Golden Compass. Most likely, there won't be a sequel to the film because of the mediocre sales of the first, which is a bit of a bummer because the first film had such an overwhelmingly obvious cliffhanger. Slightly irritating, to be honest. They might as well have said in the final voice over, "just wait till the next movie!"
So, despite the oceans of columns and blogs that have already been written on the subject I will offer a humble paragraph or two. Its probably a good thing I didn't see it earlier or it might have been my longest blog yet.
As a film, I thought it was... okay. There were some good things about it but it seemed to be lacking "feeling," as my wife put it. Without feeling, a mythology is difficult to support. This is why we love the Potter books so much and why Peter Jackson took such a long time in the making of his first LOTR film. I liked the mingling of sci-fi and fantasy and that whole parallel universe thing but again, as far as the mythology went, I was let down. Partly because I had heard that he had created a whole new mythology, a world that would rival Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling. Ummm, nope. Maybe one or two newbies. It was cool, but the borrowed motifs seemed clunky. It could have been that we (the viewer) were being required to see Witches and talking animals in a scientific light. It could work, but we just weren't given enough to support that mythology to suspend all that we've believed about the "prototypes" ingrained in our subconscious.
So as a film: C+ to a B-. The polar bear stuff was the best of the lot. I could have had a movie based on that story alone.
The mythology and all that Atheist business... It was so obvious that Pullman hates the Church and God and sadly, his crusade almost got in the way of the good story-telling. I can handle an Atheist storyteller. What I don't want is a sermon when I'm watching fantasy. To be fair, its the parts that I least enjoy about the Narnia films as well. The subtleties of allegory can easily become thorns that prick at your suspension of disbelief, until you are suddenly awake and staring at moving images, and watching a flat-screen tv, and listening to sound emerge from your speakers, and staring at the burned popcorn wondering how many fat grams you just ate, rather than lost in a world of fantasy and imagination, munching away in hypnotic-ignorant bliss.
The mythology gets bogged down in its own philosophical-preachy boots and every fantastic object or animal requires too much... thinking. After all, magic is magic. It can't be both. Make it one or the other. For instance: Supposedly, only one person could read the telepathic, scientifically created compass. This relies heavily on some "prophetic" quality, supernaturally given to the girl in the story. But the reading of the compass is somehow simply telepathic or metaphysically- scientific. Already, too much to think about when watching. That's the beauty of magic. You point the wand, believe, and lose yourself.
In short, Pullman tries to create a mythology in which God does not exist. This in itself is an oxymoron. As a result, in every room that Pullman creates, he shatters the mirrors and snuffs-out the candles, leaving only us to imagine what his world would have been like if he had just simply believed.