Time to round up a few news and commentary bits.
1. Is the high-def format war coming to an end? Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema have announced that they will go exclusively with Blu-Ray, and stop releasing films in the HD-DVD format; this boosts Blu-Ray’s exclusive marketshare to 70% and leaves only Universal and Paramount/DreamWorks releasing films in the HD-DVD format. Variety, IGN.com and Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily, among other sites, have the details.
2. Kyle Smith at Commentary magazine looks at a passage or two from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and asks whether the novel on which the film was based reflects a concern with what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death”:
John Podhoretz has castigated the film as nihilist. But if you measure McCarthy’s ironic tone in the book, you might come to another conclusion. Possibly McCarthy is taking the extreme, Catholic stance that all killing is wrong, from capital punishment to war to abortion. The book takes place seven years after Roe v. Wade, five years after the fall of Saigon, four years after the restoration of the death penalty by the Supreme Court. It’s a year when the idea that state could sanction killing has begun to take root. The sheriff, in the book as in the film the voice of wisdom and restraint, expresses a sad resignation toward the death penalty from page one on, and a portion of the book that isn’t referred to in the movie might be the key to understanding McCarthy’s moral.
What the film portrays fairly realistically, I think, is not so much a world without morals but a world without moral instruction. In a world that values pluralism, tolerance, and (above all) personal freedom, instruction on which criteria to use and how to apply it is looked upon as robbing the young of the freedom to choose for themselves. When you add to that a reluctance on the part of the adults to advocate for criteria that they have rejected in their own lives or for criteria that hasn’t served them, you get the comedic equivalent of Anton Chigurgh asking of what use is a (personal belief) system if that system brought the person holding it to a point where it fails to address their most basic questions or meet their most basic spiritual and emotional needs. . . .
Combine the emotional distance of the parents with the inevitable comic disappearance of Alison’s carefully chosen gynecologist when she goes into labor, and it begins to crystalize that one of the major themes of the film is abandonment. Indeed one of the central mysteries/questions of the film, one that its critics feel it doesn’t answer well, is how these characters are able to grope their way towards some sort of commitment. Would it not be more plausible to have these characters mirror what they have been “taught,” if only by example? From whence does the sense of responsibility come from if not consistent moral instruction and example?
Perhaps it comes from a deep well of hurt that makes them cling to the possibility of commitment and responsibility, even in the face of difficult circumstances, extreme odds, and nay-sayers. Perhaps the absence of moral instruction could have been interpreted by the younger generation as indifference to them rather than embarrassment of the elder generation, an indifference that steels their resolve to not be responsible for similar hurt by being the agents of similar abandonment. . . .
The London of “The Golden Compass” owes a debt to the unrealized vision of 17th-century architect Christopher Wren. His St. Paul’s Cathedral is the only part of his plan for rebuilding the city after the Great Fire of London in 1666 to have been built.
“He never got to do it in reality,” says production designer Dennis Gassner. “That’s what we get to do in movies, we get to do an homage to that.”
The city, seen from a zeppelin through the eyes of young Lyra, combines Wren’s vision with futuristic and magical elements to give it the right combination of reality and fantasy, Gassner says.
5. Variety reports that Mathieu Amalric, currently onscreen as the star of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, will play the bad guy in the next James Bond film, while Jeffrey Wright will be back as CIA agent Felix Leiter — making him the first actor to play the part in two consecutive movies. Only one other actor, David Hedison, has ever played the part twice — in Live and Let Die (1973) and Licence to Kill (1989) — but his movies were separated by several other films and at least one other actor in the role.