“I hope it’s a great film, and I hope it flops.”


That has been my attitude towards The Golden Compass for some time now; the book is a wonderfully imaginative and suspenseful story, and I would love to see it actualized on screen, but it is also the first part of a trilogy that turns increasingly anti-theistic, and preachily so, as the sequels progress, and so I would be quite happy if the rest of the trilogy were never filmed at all.

But I didn’t realize how much I really meant the first part of that quip until I began hearing the rumours that have been circulating lately, about the studio making last-minute changes to the movie — such as cutting the last three chapters of the book, parts of which have already been filmed and featured in the previews for months. (The photos embedded in this post are screen captures taken from an “extended preview” that went online in July.)

The ending is a vital part of the book; it brings things full circle by closing the arc that begins with Lyra eavesdropping on Lord Asriel’s announcement that he has discovered something way up north. And it ends the first part of the trilogy on a cliffhanger that is every bit as potent as the climax to both the book and film versions of The Fellowship of the Ring. So no matter what I may think of the rest of this trilogy, my belief in the integrity of good storytelling has me reacting badly to this news. I find myself really, really hoping the filmmakers don’t screw this up.

Writer-director Chris Weitz wrote a letter to the fans yesterday in which he addressed some of these rumours. An excerpt:

I have decided, along with Scholastic and New Line and, most importantly, Philip Pullman, to shift the concluding three chapters of Book I of His Dark Materials to the beginning of the second film of our trilogy, The Subtle Knife.

To me, this provides the most promising conclusion to the first film and the best possible beginning to the second.

It has always been my main concern to portray Lyra’s world and her adventures with integrity. Throughout this process I have been in close contact with Philip Pullman; and I would not be doing this without his approval. As Philip has said, His Dark Materials is not three stories but one story – the story of Lyra. And where we pause to take a breath in the telling of it is a matter of choice and taste. But I hope that when fans see the film they will find their fears put to rest and their hopes fulfilled. For the film to be judged on its own merits is all that I can ask for.

Elsewhere, however, Weitz has expressed his displeasure at some of the last-minute changes that have been imposed on his film — notably with regard to the fact that Ian McKellen was hired to replace Nonso Anozie as the voice of Iorek Byrnison, the exiled king of the armoured bears. Weitz told Empire Online:

“It was a studio decision…You can understand why you would cast Ian McKellen for anything,” Weitz told us. “But letting go of Nonso was one of the most painful experiences on this movie for me. I need to say about Nonso that he is one of the most promising and soulful young actors I have encountered in England and I’ve worked here for quite a bit now and he’s actually in the next Mike Leigh…But it was, uh, that was kind of a dark day for me. I kinda wanna go out of my way to point out how much I love Nonso’s work. And that’s that”.

As always, we will just have to wait until the film comes out — in eight and a half weeks, as it happens — to see how all this turns out. But I’m a little more nervous about it now than I was before.

The photos below are all from a scene that takes place at the end of the book, and which — based on the above — has been cut from this film and will not be seen until the second movie comes out in a few years. (Or, if the first movie is a flop and the sequels are never made, perhaps these deleted scenes will be included on the first movie’s DVD?) So if you have not read the book and don’t want the original ending spoiled at all, don’t look at these pictures.




UPDATE: Here are a few more images from that scene, courtesy of the exclusive new trailer that went up at Yahoo! Movies today:



OCT 10 UPDATE: Heh. My friend Magnus reminded me yesterday that it was only a few months ago that one of this film’s producers said The Golden Compass is “the first full-scale fantasy film that has stars in it”, and that The Lord of the Rings does not count because Ian McKellen “is not a big-budget star”. And now they have hired McKellen to replace another voice actor because they think The Golden Compass needs more star power! Ironic.

OCT 12 UPDATE: Philip Pullman has endorsed the revision to the film’s ending in a comment posted at BridgeToTheStars.net.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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