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I realize my blogs have been on a bit of a book spree
lately. It's kind of the theme for this week. Anyway, I was thinking back to
one of the better books I read recently. Maybe you've heard of The Golden Compass before. A lot of
people view it (somewhat correctly) as anti-religious, but I was curious about
the story itself and what it was like. Was it a good book or movie?
So, on a whim, I decided to borrow The Golden Compass (book, not movie) from my friend. I needed some
reading to keep me occupied, and Compass
seemed like a good way to do that. I didn't know much about the series, just
that it had a reputation for being decidedly unkind to religion but very
generous to steampunk and fantasy.
I was reading it for the steampunk, to be honest, and boy
did The Golden Compass deliver. The
story takes place in an alternate universe with a sort of "gilded sci-fi"
aesthetic. There are no airplanes; people travel instead by golden blimp. Polar
bears are an intelligent race of warriors, and the Christian church has
collapsed into an endless hierarchy of Offices and Enquirers.
The book that anti-religious, actually. It barely
even mentions the Church before focusing on more important things like
adventure and lands filled with strange wonders. This is what The Golden Compass does best: taking our
boring old world and recreating in in a shiny steampunk fashion. The classic
elements of a fantastical adventure story are all there, and they make Compass a fun book to read.
The movie, on the other hand, does not fare quite as well.
The most egregious offense is that the filmmakers decided to take quite a few
liberties with the story. Instead of being a well-written adventure through an
amazing land, the movie makes it into a battle between the heroic free thinkers
and the evil Catholic Church that tries to stifle all free will to stop
dissent. The book is about the magical journey, but the movie tries to be a
"subtle" message against organized religion.
That offends me more than anything else. I'm not a religious
person, but even I know not to treat religion with the casual contempt that The Golden Compass movie does. The movie
doesn't even try to make a point; it just paints organized religion as evil
without any real reason. The whole thing feels like the filmmakers were going
out of their way to offend religious people, and that is a stupid idea.
Not to mention the movie takes quite a few liberties with
the book that I didn't really appreciate. It just kind of ends right before the
book's big finale. I'm curious why they decided to cut it out (obvious sequel
set up, maybe?) but what remains is at best a sloppy translation of an
excellent book into a mediocre movie.
At least the movie had a lot of famous people in it. Clearly
the people behind the film adaption of Compass
had some serious cash. This movie has Daniel Craig (James Bond), Nicole Kidman
(Eyes Wide Shut), Ian McKellen
(Gandalf/Magneto), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku/Saruman), and even the
legendary Sam Elliot (every cowboy movie ever). The CGI bears are look nice,
too. The Golden Compass was clearly
planned to be a big-budget trilogy with that many famous names.
I don't really see them making any sequels. Honestly, when
you go out of your way to offend a large part of your audience (religious
people), I can't imagine that they'll want to come and see another one of your
movies. I belong to the other group offended by the movie, people who read the
book and found the adaption lacking. There's a right way to do an adaption (Game of Thrones) and a wrong way (Eragon).
So, if you do decide that The Golden Compass sounds interesting, do yourself a favor. Read
the book and don't go see the movie. Well, maybe the movie. I did enjoy seeing
the various steampunk sights from the books. Still, the original form of the
story was much better written.
Chalk up one more thing the book does better than the movie.
In its written form The Golden Compass isn't
quite so strongly anti-religion. However, the two sequels are that strong. By the end of the third book the tone is pretty
stridently atheist. Please, please don't let that stop you from reading these
books, though. As long as you're secure in your beliefs and not easily
offended, The Golden Compass and its
sequels are excellent fantasy adventures. The final book of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, contains some of the
most beautiful, heartfelt prose I've ever read.
What do you think? Have you read/seen The Golden Compass? If not, does it sound vaguely interesting?