Friday, December 07, 2007

His pretty, but badly written, materials

Well, Mel and I went and saw "The Golden Compass" today; and I thought y'all might appreciate a review.

Ok, first things first, the "anti-god" thing. I've read the books; and honestly, they're pretty good. That said, I have to say Pullman is an immature twat who conflates religion with totalitarian fascism. He has written books which are militantly anti-fascist, but honestly not anti-god. He THINKS he's being anti-god, but his version of god is a grotesque parody. Somehow, he doesn't understand that god isn't some big cosmic Great Oz/Hitler.

Now, none of that really matters for the movie. There's none of the anti-god stuff in there, and a heck of a lot of anti fascist stuff in there... Actually, there isn't a heck of a lot of the books in there at all.

So, with that out of the way, let's talk about why this movie wasn't any damn good.

It's very pretty.

Everything else is bad.

There is basically no writing here. The director, Chris Weitz, who also adapted the screenplay; seemingly took random 30 second excerpts from the book, and threw them at the wall to see what stuck. His previous directing experience is limited to "American Pie", and "About a Boy"; both of which he co-wrote and co-directed with his brother. He also wrote Antz, and "The Nutty Professor 2"... which should really tell you all you need to know.

There is almost no plot, and what's there is cliche and hackneyed. There is absolutely no character development. Random people you don't know or care about appear and disappear for no apparent reason and with no apparent motivation; do something either completely obvious, or completely inexplicable; and then poof, it's on to the next thing.

The direction, and the cutting choices they made make no sense. Story arcs begin, travel on for a moment, and then turn around or end suddenly with no apparent justification; just to get a touchstone from the book in and then move on; or to establish some point for later without actually having to make it fit properly in the story.

The editing...

Well, I suppose someone must like that style, given its frequent use in commercials, and reality Television.

A film geek aside: I can't believe that Anne Coates was the editor of this film. She's one of the greatest editors of all time, and credited as the editor here; but it's so far out of her visual style... I have to think that one of the people billed under her as assistant editors was in fact the primary and Coates was the supervising editor. The film is really much more in the visual style of Peter Honess, whose work is entirely unsuited to this genre (though generally not BAD).

The animation was, as I said, gorgeous; but the compositing and syncing with the live action actors was just a tiny bit off; which threw all the animated characters (and that's half the characters in the movie) straight through the uncanny valley, and out into the "irritating landfill". The wonderfully rendered animated characters were very clearly not actually part of the environment they were seen in... and for that matter, the environment itself was often clearly not part of the same world as the live action actors.

What annoyed me most from a technical perspective actually, was that the voice acting was just bad.

The voices coming out of the mouths of the animated characters... well, they weren't coming out of the mouths of those characters. At no time was the illusion created that those animated animals were actually speaking. There was little tone or inflection, what was there was not appropriate to the situations or character animations; and when the characters spoke, there was no environmental or ambient noise in the ADR mix; so the speech sounded exactly like what it was, actors reading lines in a recording studio.

Honestly though, all of this could have been made up for, if there was any heart, or presence to the film.

I watched this, and ultimately, it felt hollow to me. There was nothing that resonated. Nothing that made me care about what I was watching. There was no honesty, no emotion, no character... no soul.

Was there anything good about the movie?

Certainly, there were lots of good points. In fact, I don't want to create the impression that this was a BAD movie; it wasn't at all bad... it just wasn't good.

Nicole Kidman gave an excellent performance. What little there was of it on the screen (she gets about 20 minutes of screen time), was completely captivating. You simply could not take your eyes off her when she was in frame; and that wasn't simply because she is beautiful (which she undoubtedly is; and which the costuming, makeup, and production design emphasized and magnified exquisitely), but because she has true presence.

Daniel Craigs few minutes of screen time were decent (he is the central "hero" of the trilogy, but his role is mostly an introduction in this movie). Sam Elliot was... Sam Elliot. He plays essentially the same character in every movie, and he's good at it.

Also, the production design is just fantastic. A combination of fantasy, Victorian London, and a steampunk wet dream. If you love coal, brass, steam, lace, jacobs ladders, Van de Graf generators, and ether goggles; you'll love this movie just for the visuals (though the lighting was surprisingly bad... perhaps to make the poorly composited animation look better?)

You are likely to see many positive reviews of this movie over the next few days. I can reasonably assure you those reviews are not positive because of the quality of the movie, but because the film critics want to stick a finger in the eye of the religious twits who have been trying to get the movie pulled off screens all over the country. In fact, I'd bet some of them don't even bother watching the movie before expressing their full throated support (of course I think that's often true for a lot of critics, and a lot of movies).

Don't see this movie. Not because it's anti-god; but because it's just not good.