05 February 2008

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I decided to re-read this instead of seeing the film (which by most accounts is terrible). The book remains good, and coming out of it I can't really see how film-makers could have screwed it up. So much of it seems amenable to filming, with a moderately good writer.


Luke said...

I personally found the movie to be good with 1 major failing (which I suspect arose from Philip Pullman's involvement in the script).

The issue with the movie is that they "tell" you everything as if you were reading a book, rather than watching a movie. This makes most of the emotional scenes fall down and almost destroys Lyra, who is otherwise well acted.

The best example I can give is that it was like taking that great lighting the beacons scene from Return of the King which is done with just music and visuals, and having Gandalf narrate over the top of it all with the text in the book of what was happening.

Some examples from the movie:

1. The prologue would have been OK if they then hadn't written the movie to work without the prologue. As a result, it all gets repeated in the first 15 minutes.

2. Everything is called by its full name, and full set of names if it has more than one. So the Golden Compass is referred to "The Golden Compass, the Aleithometer". Also, people often get called by their title, first and last names sometimes like "Serfala, Sefala Pekala".

3. The scene with the boy whose demon is ripped from him is destroyed as rather than show a reaction of horror, Lyra is scripted to explain what she sees with a line like "Its X. He has no demon. That must be what they mean by "Intercission".

4. When Lyra first rides Iorek, rather than leaving it to music and visuals, Iorek says someting like: "I am running really fast as I am not wearing any of my armour". This is whilst you are watching him running really fast and not wearing any armour.

5. When Lyra goes to the "Bear" Kingdom, she spends about a minute explaining her clever plan to Pan in regard to the old king, only to be followed by seeing her do what she just said directly after.

It is such a shame. The movie was well cast, directed and looked cool. The script, however, showed a real lack of translation from a book medium to a movie.

The Gamester At Large said...

That does sound incredibly clumsy. I'm not sure that you should blame Pullman, however, as the extra explanations that you mention are not present in the book. It seems to me these are more like the kind of stuff that a producer would require to make sure that the dumbest member of the audience wouldn't miss anything.

Luke said...

You may be right. I have heard that Philip Pullman was incredibly precious in the scripting process to ensure that every nuance of his work was contained in it.

The thing is that I think the issues may not have looked bad to a writer on paper. However, when translated to the big screen, they are big.