Mark Steyn was a pop-culture expert — films, theatre, songs, he has reviewed it all — long before he became a political pundit, and he has been going on and on about demographics and declining birth rates for so long that I could not help but wonder what he would make of Children of Men, the new movie in which the entire human race has been unable to procreate for nearly 20 years.
At last, I have my answer, via his book column for Maclean’s:
There are zillions of bad movies, but Alfonso Cuarón’s film Children Of Men is bad in an almost awe-inspiring way. They should teach it in film school as the acme of adaptation. Mr. Cuarón’s previous films (including A Little Princess and one of the groovier Harry Potters) were perfectly fine, and certainly different directors will approach the same property in entirely different ways. But, with Children Of Men, he’s managed to spend a ton of time and money, hire a fine cast, lavish inordinate care and attention to detail on the film’s design and cinematography — and yet completely miss the point of the book. More revealingly, the way in which he misses the point portends a difficult future for Hollywood in the years ahead. . . .
I read the novel in 1992, enjoyed it, and thought about its eerie vision from time to time. The best dystopian novels hinge not on some technological gimmick but on some characteristic of our time nudged forward just a wee bit. Recently, I wrote a book about the demographic death spiral already under way in western Europe, Russia and Japan (with Canada just a step behind), and I quoted P. D. James’s novel therein. I’d read a small news item from Tokyo about how local toy manufacturers, facing an ever shrinking market, had begun manufacturing talking dolls to provide company for the elderly — in effect, to be the grandchildren those Japanese seniors would never have. And I thought, “Hang on, that rings a bell . . .”
So I mentioned Children Of Men in my book, and as a result over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a bunch of emails from folks furious at me for stiffing ‘em out of eight bucks for a lousy movie. Whoa, hold up, I was trying to stiff you out of 30 bucks for a book. Who said anything about a movie? . . .
And away he goes from there. It is all made a bit more interesting by the fact that Steyn worked with James in his BBC Radio days.