Archive for the 'Film' Category

Comicon 2010 round-up and wrap-up, Saturday, Sunday

July 26th, 2010

Continuing the Comicon 2010 report from the previous post….

Saturday: I had some thoughts of seeing the Chuck panel, as I was there early enough, but early enough for the panel and early enough for the line are two different things and the line for Ballroom 20 was beyond insane, so I decided to go over to the Indigo Ballroom in the Hilton which is generally less impacted and see the program track there.  En route, I witnessed the line for Hall H, where the movie panels go on.  It had overflowed it’s already insane bounds and gone over across the street, wrapped around the park where the Clash of the Titans games promos were set up and extended into another dimension I think.  The games in the park were all nice: You could have your face painted and have a picture taken in cut-outs as one of Medusa’s victims, you could bounce on a giant trampoline (which did a number on my knee last year at con), you could play boffer wars in a bouncy arena, and you could even climb a rock wall with a cable safety harness.  Almost no one was playing the games, preferring to stand in line, so I decided I’d try the rock wall, which was free.  Unfortunately, I’d sprained my LCL a few months ago and about ten feet up the rock wall I felt it complain so I wussed out.  The guy who was supervising the wall looked more approving after I compared knee surgery scars with him.  In any case, I got a souvenir fan in place of a shield or a medusa headdress and went on to the line for the Indigo Ballroom, which was fortunately short.

I was there in time for the panel for Leverage, which I’d only vaguely heard of.  They had free MASTERMIND and GRIFTER T-shirts.  I took MASTERMIND, of course.  The room was packed and I had an extremely excited fifty-something fangirl next to me who was sqeeing with delight over seeing her favorite actors, one of whom I then noted was Christian Kane who I’d previously seen on Angel and who mentioned that he has a new music debut on iTunes of some song played on the show (explaining why his character Lindsay on Angel went off with a guitar at one point–they were incorporating a talent of the actor into the character) Wil Wheaton was also playing this seasons’ guest villain, Chaos. It looks like a great show, and has a nice simple premise: a gang of modern-day Robin Hoods pulling a heist each week against some bad guys who deserve to get ripped off and then have their money given to charity.  I now have to set my DVR for another show.

Next was the Venture Brothers panel.  It’s a fun cartoon I’ve watched some episodes of and I’ll probably watch a few more.  The actors on the panel were entertaining and generally gonzo, as one might expect.

Then came the Sanctuary panel.  I’ve enjoyed the show, and the panel was enjoyable as well.  They talked a good bit about the Bollywood dance that figured into the last season finale, and also mentioned how they’ve set up a charity which has been helping various groups around the world.  The guy next to me started recording the whole show on his camera, but it wasn’t going to be an unsteady shot, because he’d brought an actual tripod.  I looked around and he wasn’t the only one.

Then came the panel for The Guild, who could teach the rest of Hollywood something serious about work ethic and how to please your fans.  Aside from being at their booth throughout the con with all the actors present doing continuous signings from what I could see, they started the panel with the producer thanking all the fans and telling some production details that were genuinely interesting (as opposed to the twaddle from the guy for the Falling Skies panel, for example).  They then introduced the actors and segued neatly to showing the third episode the current season because they assumed everyone had watched the first two.  I hadn’t, but I can remedy that now, it was fun to see Wil Wheaton back as the villain Faux who had ended up as Codex’s love interest at the end of last season.  They then gave out buttons with the bodice ripper painting of Codex and Faux shown in the episode as a funny bit.  Then, when you wouldn’t think they could top that, they said they’d show the fourth episode, though the editing wasn’t quite done.  So we start into a nice seen with Codex and Zaboo in her bedroom which suddenly organically turns into a Bollywood extravaganza called “Game On.”

Wow.  That was some serious showmanship, and not just for the music video, which was amazing, but for the reveal to the fans.  Obviously they planned this well in advance and I’m pleased to see it such a success.

The guy with the tripod then packed up and left, but I then stayed around to watch a bit of the Community panel.  It was fun and whacky and basically what you’d expect for a comedy set in a community college with Chevy Chase as one of the professors, but after getting a free community college membership card with a discount for buying the DVD, I decided I was tired of sitting and so left too, going back to the convention center to see the art show, which was underwhelming, and more of the art on in the dealer’s room, which was not.

One artist I should point out to everyone is Echo Chernik.  She does some amazing art nouveau illustrations.  Another is Jeremy Bastain who does the Cursed Pirate Girl comics.

I then picked up with Albert and a couple of his friends and we went to Dick’s Last Resort which was a good deal of fun, especially since they were into the Comicon spirit and the waiters were in costume.  Ours was dressed as a white Mr. T with a Brooklyn accent, which was entertaining, and the food was good.  Pete, who’d joined us for dinner late, told us about the really cool Tron set-up they’d had off-site from the convention center.  I wish I’d been able to see it, but there’s always too much stuff to see, but what he showed me on his camera was pretty amazing.  We ate and ordered too much, which in hindsight we shouldn’t have because the next stop was the House of Blues where one of my publishers, SmartPop, had invited us to a party.  There was a buffet with too much delicious food, and also copies of their latest essay anthology A Taste of True Blood which the editor, Leah Wilson, was signing for all the guests.  There was fun talk about anthologies and the usual convention party fun.

Sunday: The last day of the con, I decided to catch Ann and Jeff Vandermeer‘s panel where they talked about upcoming projects, including steam punk anthologies and various curious and whimsical things.  I then did the dealers room floor, snagging up various things that caught my eye as purchases for the final day sales and also getting the final day swag.

The most interesting/fun bit of swag came in the WETA Workshop booth where a guy got up on a chair and announced that in partnership with TheOneRing.net were doing a trivia contest based on The Hobbit. Now, I pride myself on having a semi-eidetic memory, so I thought my chances of winning something with trivia from a book I’d read over thirty years ago were not half bad if I played my cards right.  After flubbing one question, I got called on for another, wanting the names of two of the swords Bilbo found in the troll’s hoard.  Now, if I racked my brains I might have been able to recall the fancy elven names, but they just asked for names, so I immediately gave the orcish ones: “Biter and Beater!”  The Weta guy looked at me as if I’d gone slightly mad since he was reading the card and those were not the names he was looking at but I just grinned and nodded to the OneRing guy for arbitration, and he admitted that those indeed were two of the names for the swords.  Not the names they were looking for, but names from the book.  I was asked if I knew the elven name, which I didn’t, but a guy next to me did: “Glamdring and Orcrist!”  The OneRing guy decided that that question was sufficient to advance us both to the finals after we’d answered a couple other questions.

The final round was me, a woman, the elven scholar guy, and a kid who I expected had read the book recently.  The elven scholar won the first question, selecting a miniature shield as his prize, the kid then correctly said that Gandalf had asked for red wine in Bilbo’s house and got the map of New Zealand as Middle Earth, and I then answered the next question correctly and got my choice of fancy rubber Hobbit ears or a red T-shirt for TheOneRing.net with the slogon “Talk Nerdy to Me.”  I’m not much of a cosplayer, but a T-shirt in my size?  Excellent.

After that, Albert gave me a ride to the airport and my friend Michael picked me up.  All in all an excellent Comicon.

Comicon 2010 round-up and wrap-up, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

July 26th, 2010

I’m just back from the San Diego Comicon 2010.

I had considered doing a daily blog post and update, but that way lay madness or at least sleep deprivation and less con, so I’ll just do it now.

First off, a broad generalization: This appears to be a banner year for zombies and a notable year for family togetherness, and yes, we’re talking at the same time too.

Now on to specifics, in order of occurrence, not importance. I flew down Wednesday and was picked up by my friend Albert who was my guest for the con and in turn whose house guest I was. He’d already picked up our badges and since the airport was so close to the convention center, we hopped back and I got to see the last hour of preview night, whereupon I saw simultaneously the most impressive thing I saw at the con and the least impressive thing which were one and the same. The most impressive thing was the throne of Odin from the upcoming Thor movie. It’s this grand extravaganza that looks somewhat like a giant gold sword hilt (riffing, I think, on Odin supposedly having a sword suspended over his throne a la Damocles) with amazing Norse knotwork and steps and the impression that there were supposed to be valkyries perched all over portions of it like the Rockettes. However, on the throne itself was this cheap gold lame cushion that looked like it came from a ’70s porno. My guess is that Odin is going to wear some amazing fur cape and the set designer said not to bother because no one would ever see it, but it’s also going to be seen in thousands of photos as people lined up to take their pictures in it.

Regardless, I stopped by a few booths, notably Kingdom of Loathing and Girl Genius, picking up a few item cards at the first for my in-game clanmates and saying “hi” to the Foglios at the other.  The hall then closed and Albert and I went over to the bar at the Sheraton Suites to meet up with my friend Allison Lonsdale as well as her friends J. and Mel who do the Two Lumps webcomic.  Allison gave me the CD of “Live at Lestat’s” which I’d pre-ordered many years ago–and which she was glad to finally have out–and we had a good time (apart from my garlic intolerance and the unadvertised surprise garlic in the risotto, but they brought me mammoth coconut shrimp instead, so it all worked out).

Thursday we went to the con and I went off to The Power of Myth panel, which was an author track panel moderated by Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy.  The room was packed to the point of them turning people away and there were a number of interesting panelists, including my friend Seanan McGuire, and my friend and editor Esther Friesner who had been flown out for the con.  It was a very fun panel and moreover informative, with Seanan mentioning the Romany legend that a certain type of fey creature was known to steal your baking stone if you displeased it which had been modernized in her grandmother’s retelling to stealing your microwave.  Michael Scott also made mention of the fascinating and tragic detail that there were entire villages in Ireland that had lost their native folklore due to the inhabitants dying during the Potato Famine or emigrating to America.  However, when they emigrated, they brought the folklore with them.

After the panel I caught up with Esther and set up to meet with her for dinner.  I then looked at the program guide and decided that there was nothing else in particular I wanted to see that day so I decided to pace the floor of the dealers room to see everything, something I hadn’t done in years since it’s the size of two and a half football fields.  But I did it.

Walking the floor made me conclude that this is the year of the zombie.  There were enormous displays for The Walking Dead, both the original comic series and the new AMC adaptation.  I was able to gather that it follows some small-time sheriff’s officer who’s injured in a shoot-out then wakes up in a hospital after the zombie plague is already in full swing, a la 28 Days, but it also has the heartwarming family angle where he’s out to track down his wife and son and rescue them from the zombies.  There were also zombies visible in the large booth for a video game called Dead Speed which appears to involve some bad-ass in motorcycle leathers, zombie card and dice games for sale from Steve Jackson Games, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies stuff at dozens of booths.

There was also more heartwarming family stuff in the form of No Ordinary Family which postulates that somewhat dumpy looking bald guy, played by Michael Chiklis, is married to super-hot MILF Julie Benz, and they have a boy and a girl, and then they’re in a plane which is caught in some super-uber-phlebotinum storm while they’re flying, which is pretty much the same origin story as The Fantastic Four.  Michael Chiklis even played The Thing in The Fantastic Four, so it’s really not a surprise that he gets the super-strength power.  Julie Benz’s Milf gets the Flash’s superspeed power, which is also reminiscent of The Incredibles.  To be different (for certain values of different) the daughter gets telepathy and the slacker son gets super-genius calculator powers.  I’m certain it’s hearwarming but it sure looks derivative.

I then got together with Esther for dinner and we went to the Gaslamp Strip Club which is so named because you grill your own steaks, which was good and fun.  After that I linked up with Albert and we hit Extraordinary Desserts, which were beautiful but too sweet for my taste, and went to the “From Dusk Till Shaun” party being hosted at El Camino on India Street.  It was the place that had previously been The Airport Lounge and it was kind of sad to see the 60-70s “golden age of air travel” be replaced by an admittedly cool Mexican bar.  I saw my friend Storm who I hadn’t seen in a year and it was then time to call it a night.

Friday The day began with the panel I was on, again hosted by Maryelizabeth, With Great Power Come Great Stories.  I was there representing for Wild Cards, as were Carolyn Spector and surprise extra guest Paul Cornell.  The room was about two-thirds full, but would have had more people if the interminable line for ballroom 20 weren’t routinely barring access to the rest of the hall.  One of the panelists was even late because of it.  Regardless, the panel went well, and I got the closing remark, “But sometimes you need to use the insanity widget,” which Maryelizabeth then echoed as a good final line and adjourned us to the signing area.

After the signing, Carolyn and I went to The Field and had lunch, talked Wild Cards and writing in general, and had a good time, then went back to the convention center and went around the dealer’s room until my feet got too sore and I went off to see a panel and sit down.

While I would have liked to see the True Blood panel, the line for it was insane and the main point was to get off my feet.  They’d also cross-programmed it with another vampires-and-werewolves show I also like called Being Human, but as that’s from Britain and didn’t have banners over half the convention center advertising it, I assumed it would be less impacted and I could sit down immediately.  I was right.

I got in for the tail end of Teen Wolf. No, not the Teen Wolf with Back to the Future made them release it anyway, and not the cartoon version either.  Well, yeah, sort of, but it looked like with this remake, they planned to play it straight and it looked reasonably cool.

This was then followed by the panel for Falling Skies, or as I called it afterward “In Which Stephen Spielberg Phones It In.”  How do I explain it?  Let’s see….  Take War of the Worlds and file the serial numbers off (it’s in public domain, but the last version bombed, so you don’t want to be associated with that) and cross-pollinate it with some patriotism lifted from Independence Day by making your protagonist an American history professor who specializes in the Revolutionary War and is thus is filled with idealistic hope that a small band of insurgents can continually frustrate and annoy an invading army until their intergalactic homeworld eventually suffers an economic collapse and the funding for the invasion of earth is yanked.  Or something like that.  This role is being played by Noah Wylie, an actor I usually enjoy and who was very earnestly trying to sell his new series, but the story about his character’s wife being dead, two of his sons being around, and the third son being kidnapped by the aliens for “mysterious purposes”?  (Hint: These “mysterious purposes” are invariably hybridizing humans with aliens, which he would know if he were a professor of pop culture and were thus genre savvy.)

Like The Walking Dead, the story picks up several months after the invasion, but instead of having the collapse of society glossed over by means of a convenient coma, we have this grave-voiced little girl telling us that the aliens “did not want to be friends” as a voice-over to crayon drawings of bug-eyed green men with gnashing razor-sharp teeth.  I’m about to wonder if the sheriff and the history professor shouldn’t team up and go deal with the zombies and the aliens together when the Q&A begins and this breathless woman asks the producer where they came up with the brilliant idea of explaining the invasion via the little girl’s drawings, and I’m thinking, um, it’s on tv tropes.org and it’s called a “nightmare fuel coloring book.” I could almost forgive the woman for the ditzy question when the producer opened his mouth and started blowing colored smoke about it being something Stephen Spielberg invented from his amazing creative genius, as opposed to it being a standard film convention of the genre, and you always give the dire exposition to little girls instead of little boys if you can help it because little girls are perceived as inherently more innocent and the contrast is automatically viewed as creepier.  Duh.

Then the panel was over and there was a short wait for Being Human to start.  Unlike most there, I had not yet illegally downloaded the whole second season to watch it, but I still enjoyed the panel and the actors.  There was also an interesting mention that while the BBC show is continuing, there will be an American version started up on the SyFy channel and the producer hoped we’d watch both so he’d get more residuals.

I then went and caught dinner with Albert and his friend Andrew, who’s also a housemate.  We hit the Dublin Square and had dinner and drinks with a blogger who was covering the con, after which we called it an early night in preparation for Saturday.

Comicon ’09 & Westercon ’09 — My god, it’s made of swag!

July 29th, 2009

I’m now back in town after Comicon and Westercon before it, and it’s time for my annual con wrap-up.

In twenty years of Comicons, I have never gotten so much swag.  Yes, there was the year of pogs, the year of posters, the years of posters and bags.  But never before have I gone to a con, come back laden with more bags than I could reasonably carry (or take as my onboard luggage), and then realize I’d left two behind at my friend Albert’s.

I was told by dealers that they weren’t seeing many credit cards, but everyone was paying cash–a sign of the economy.  But it seems another sign of the economy that Hollywood is just throwing free stuff at people as promotion.  I came back with four free DVDs (one random one given to me by a little kid in the hall, another box set of The Rose, Hello Dolly and 9 to 5 I’d got as a door prize for being one of the few people to look at “The Middle”) then came home and found a Coraline DVD waiting for me, prize from a raffle I’d entered at Westercon.

But now that that’s all said, let me go through the days of the convention in order.  I flew down Monday early to visit, and while doing so, found myself sitting with the staff of Slave Labor Graphics, going down to staff their booth.  (Tuesday, I went to the museums in Balboa Park.)

Continue Reading »

Spoilers: or, The Joy of Reading and Viewing Without Preconceptions

March 4th, 2009

Some folk cannot abide spoilers–it ruins a book for them–while others read for process not goal and therefore do not mind spoilers.  Now, it makes no never mind to me whether a person hates spoilers, or doesn’t mind spoilers, or checks ahead to see who lives and who dies because the anticipation is killing them.  As I say, let a person be the reader they want to be.

As for me, I personally prefer to read or view for the first time without knowing what is going to happen;  I like to experience the plot “in real time” with all the surprises, setbacks, revelations and shocks that may entail.  I enjoy the experience of my own reactions, and if I really really like a book or film I will read/see it again, which provides yet another experience, the experience of watching the known story unfold and anticipating or recognizing the way the narrative builds and twists.

Others will approach the reading (viewing) experience differently, and that’s as it should be. Continue Reading »

Memo to Hollywood: How to do (and not do) an adaptation

December 31st, 2008

I have just watched The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, a year after it came out (DVR is your friend, except maybe in this case) and I’m gasping in horror at how bad it was, and for no good reason.  You’ve got all the elements that would seem to make a great movie:  Beloved children’s classic as source material?  Check.  Lavish sets?  Check.  Gorgeous costuming?  Check.  Actors ranging from competent to excellent?  Check.  Impressive and appropriate special effects?  Check.  Script by a competent screenwriter?  Um, well, I understand they got the guy who did the adaptation for Trainspotting, which I understand was a decent movie, but….

First off, let me make one thing clear: Departure from the source material is fine.   The Wizard of Oz dumped the scene in the Dainty China Country from the movie adaptation because it was boring, extraneous, and painfully lame.  Glomming the Good Witch of the North and Glinda the Sorceress of the South together makes sense from a dramatic perspective, though making her a bubbly airhead was a bit much (although the MGM version does have her fans).  Having the Wicked Witch of the West be responsible for the poppies is fine for purposes of drama, and having them be foiled by snow as opposed to field mice is likewise fine for purposes of staging.  Mary Norton’s The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks do not contain Nazis, musical numbers, a young Miss Price, or magical football matches with talking animals–though all of these things are very fun in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a movie I adored as a child and had to thank for introducing me to the equally good (if significantly different) book.  And Alfonso Cuaron’s version of A Little Princess took numerous liberties with the original novel, including but not limited to moving the setting from London to New York, making Becky black instead of Cockney, and most significantly, having Sarah’s dad not be dead of bad investments in India but instead poisoned by mustard gas and MIA in WWI.

The difference here is that The Wizard of Oz, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Cuaron’s A Little Princess are all great movies.   The reason The Seeker isn’t is not because elements were changed, but because elements were changed for the wrong reasons and the wrong way. Continue Reading »

The Fortress of Solitude

September 23rd, 2008

Superman Flies Lois Over Manhattan

What do you think? Was the 1978 Superman the best movie made from a comic book, with all other attempts going downhill after that, with the exception of the first two Spidermans (2002 & 2004)? And maybe, Batman Begins (2005)? Oh, wait! There was also the excellent first X-Men (2000).

We shall not even mention the ludicrously exacrable awful X-Man ast Stand (2006) — which seems to be more generally the quality of comix-to-movies and / or video / computer games-to-movies, alas and alack-a-day!

Back to Superman, 1978, the past prophesizes the future. We begin not on the planet of Krypton, but in the Depression with voice over telling us specifically that this is the 1930′s and a world-wide economic disaster has taken place, while black-and-white comic book pages flip. One wonders why, since after that we get the credits, and then the movie properly begins and we’re on Krypton.

However, with the 1930′s global Depression invoked, the trial on Krypton of traitors to the state, and then the denial and rejection of brilliant Jor-El’s warning of coming planetary destruction by the same power elite that passed judgment of the traitors, it feels like today’s headlines.

It’s lovely how the director does not rush us through any of this. The film takes just the time it needs to set-up what needs to be set-up. It remains interesting to look at through this leisurely beginning, leisurely despite the tension and pressure of special effects planetary destruction. Partly this is because the Intro is mostly narrated by Marlon Brando as Jor-El, just the first on-screen member of this all-star cast.

Then we finally get to the best parts of the movie, Superman’s adoption by the Kents and his growing up in rural Kansas. The photography’s tenderness in recording the small details of that life provokes one to wonder whether the director or the cinematographer grew up there too. The glory of the wheat, gold and rose in the lingering sunset glow, sleeping with the bakelite radio tuned in to the local R’nR station, the paper window shades with circle string pulls, the vane windmills, the barns — I know all these details intimately also from my childhood. Then Clark must leave the warm, nurturing pastoral nest, to begin his adult super education via Jor-El’s technology, in the Fortress of Solitude, grown via that same technology out of the empty ice blades at the top of the world.

Next follows assuming a mask and courtship, simultaneously. Such cute bits: no phone booths into which he can change from Kent to Superman, the most extreme looking-up-a-girl’s-skirt scene ever, as Lois Lane dangles from the helicopter teetering at the edge of a skyscraper’s roof deck, x-raying Lois’s lungs through her clothes with his super vision when he advises her not to smoke.

It’s all foreplay and courtship from the moment Superman (not Kent, despite Superman’s Kent mask’s attraction to her) and Lois Lane set eyes on each other. Innuendo, double entendre, her interview of the man who saved her, giving him his name — Superman — gathering his vital stats, most importantly that he’s neither married nor has a girlfriend. She asks if he can, um, well, eat? Meaning, do you, can you fuck? Even better, there is no way that Margot Kidder can be described as anything but, well, homely. This is all lead-up to that marvelous overflight of New York City, which neither Vaquero nor I have ever forgotten. Seeing this movie again for the first time since 1978, seeing the Twin Towers — the flight is even more magical.

Continue Reading »

Forthcoming Vampire Films – London Times

August 17th, 2008

This article deals with vampires in the movie versions only, even if the movies mentioned were adapted from original novels.  It includes a brief chronology of vampires on film which can be a quickie refresher for those who have read any or all of the books published on this subject, and watched all the films.  Oddly, Buffy’s not mentioned.

This forthcoming film sounds interesting, so I’ll be watching out for it:

Meanwhile, although the vampire in Let the Right One In is altogether more dangerous, she symbolises as much the dark side of the human psyche as an external threat. “I was thinking about these two characters as though they are mirrors,” Alfredson, the director, says. “She is everything that he is not. She is awake when he is asleep: he is very afraid, she is very brave; she is strong, he is weak; she’s dark, he is blond. She is everything that he would need to be to survive. They are two sides of the same coin.”

The vampire craze shows no signs of abating. An English language remake of Let the Right One In has been announced. With three remaining books in the Twilight saga, there is potential for a vampire franchise. And although the Twilight books series is complete, Nash reveals that “Stephenie does have the bare bones of a chapter of a book provisionally titled Midnight Sun, which is the Twilight story but from the point of view of the vampire not the human girl”.

  Love, C.

Comicon International 2008 — Dr. Horrible, The Dark Knight, and me

July 30th, 2008

Back from Comicon. Also back from Westercon. Thoughts….

First off…wow. Comicon was amazing. In over twenty years of attending, Comicon’s managed to outdo itself again, mostly by dint of those who came, both industry types and fans. I don’t know how many, but numbers of over 200,000 were rumored and probably underestimated.

Second thought, what’s up with the art shows at all the cons? At Comicon, I saw more winged kittens in the art show than superheroes, or for that matter, any comic book characters. Yes, I understand the cottage industry of marketing to dragon and cat fetishists, but seeing the same dracokitty art recycled from Westercon to Comicon was surreal given the difference of the rest of the convention.

Continue Reading »

“Mongol”

June 24th, 2008

Cross-posted with my LJ.  Mongol, the first installment of a Russian trilogy featuring Genghis Khan is currently playing in a single theater here in Manhattan.  Go here and here to see trailers, stills and more information.  The film is supposed to have a larger release here in the U.S.  It had terrific popular and critical reception in Europe.

The best parts:

–The locations, the vistas, the action, the people — none of them are digital.  This is all location and real people riding real horses.  It does look different, and so much better, I do say.

–The landscape, as one expects, has the leading role in Mongol.   You will not be disappointed.  Vistas of snow, of arid slopes, green rolling spring grass, doesn’t seem foreign to someone who grew up on the Great Plains, though, no we didn’t have mountains where I grew up.  But I did visit the Black Hills, which are really mountains, often on family summer vacations, and the Badlands, in both South Dakota and North Dakota.  The Missouri-Platt system meanders through parts of both these states on their way to the Mississippi, so I saw those too on summer vacations.  These are true vistas and landscapes, from my own life, and the lives of these characters in

What’s Wrong with “The Golden Compass”?

December 10th, 2007

I just went to see The Golden Compass, along with a couple other friends, who all decided to see it despite being advised by one friend that the movie made no sense and by another that he didn’t want to see it because he hadn’t liked the book.

I have the book, but on the “I’ll read it when I get around to it” shelf. But it was a nice outing with friends and I wanted to see airships and Nicole Kidman in a series of improbably lovely costumes. And going in with such low expectations, I was not disappointed, except by everything else.

First off, well, my biggest criticism is what I said after the movie was over: “I suppose it will all make more sense after we read the book and watch the expanded version on DVD.” This was after watching a nearly two and a half hour movie, mind you. I’m not certain whether to blame the screenwriter, the film editor or both, but there seemed to be a concentrated effort to shoehorn in every significant scene in the book, regardless of the exposition or transition or set-up for character motivation.

As it stands, the movie has the worst case of “beloved child” syndrome I’ve ever seen. The protagonist, Lyra (and I’m probably wrong on the spelling), wanders around and simply bumps into people who decide to fight and die for her “Just because.” I can understand it with the head witch, since she’s at least got a prophecy to go on, but she’s still canny enough to check out whether the kid can read the Golden Compass. But Sky Captain Wild Bill? I’m blanking on the name of character, but if you took an old American character actor, had him play Wild Bill as conceived of by someone who’d only seen British Wild West shows, gave him a jackrabbit familiar (voiced by Cathy Bates) and then made him an airship captain…well, that’s who we’ve got, who not only immediately takes a liking to this random kid, but offers to take her along in his airship, and also tips her off to the location of an alcoholic talking bear, who is less entertaining than he sounds. The bear decides to follow the kid because she finds his armor, but the only reason they aren’t immediately blown away by the Cossack police is because the sea gypsies keep randomly appearing whenever the cavalry is needed. Even in the middle of the frozen glacial wastes.

Then there’s the Magisterium. I understand it’s supposed to be the unholy spawn of the Catholic church and Big Brother, but if you’re going to spirit away kids to do insane arcane medical experiments on them, there must be a more convenient place than an ice sheet in the middle of the Norway analogue. But more than that, why steal children when you can just buy them? Or get parents to give them to you for free? There must be a few parents who’ve already drunk enough of the Kool-aid that they’d hand over their children no questions asked, rather than steal the child of the well connected sea gypsy matron? Or the kitchen boy from the university where there are loads of nosy people just looking for a mystery to crack?

Of course, the number of brain dead people is pretty amazing. There’s horror movie stupid. Then there’s opera stupid. Then there’s this. One really wonders what the scholars are thinking to let their child of prophecy go running around rooftops with the cast of Oliver at the beginning of the movie. One also sort of wonders whether a world with all sorts of arcane science wouldn’t be able to figure out who poisoned a wine decanter if just by taking fingerprints. And the uspurping Bear King? Does he know that “gullible” is not in the dictionary?

Then there’s the trouble of giving your protagonist an amazingly useful power and forgetting to use it. Lyra gets a Golden Compass, which once she figures it out is basically a deluxe Magic 8 Ball that can answer any question, no problem. So when later in the movie, the wicked Mrs. Coulter says “Lyra, I’m your mother!” wouldn’t it be prudent or least sensible to twiddle with your Golden Compass and ask “Is that psycho really my mommy?” Of course this scene may have been left on the cutting room floor, so it’s not possibly quite at the level of the recent Heroes finale where Peter forgets he can walk through walls if he wants to and instead dramatically uses his telekinesis to rip the door off a bank vault, getting a nosebleed in the process. But still….

I should probably not get into the other troubles but the line “Tell the children to get their warmest coats!” is going to stick with me for a while. You get a bunch of kids who were spirited away to an icy wasteland via airship and you expect them to walk to safety? Of course an electrocuted traumatized child was able to walk all the way to the next valley and hole up in an unheated trapper’s cabin without freezing to death, so I suppose anything is possible, but….

Yargh.

Next »