Angels & Demons hit by writers’ strike

Variety reports that Angels & Demons, the “prequel” to The Da Vinci Code (2006) that was going to begin filming in February, has “become the first major casualty of the ongoing writers strike.” The original release date was set for Christmas 2008, but has now been postponed to May 15 2009 — two weeks after the current release date for X-Men Origins: Wolverine and one week before the current release date for James Cameron’s Avatar — because there were “insurmountable problems” with the script, which was written in a rush just prior to the strike. At the moment, the only actor attached to the film is Tom Hanks, no new start date has been set yet — and it is possible that the film could be postponed again if the actors’ and directors’ guilds go on strike in June.

Comings and goings.

Just a note before I return to all the errands and distractions that have been keeping me away from the blog for the past few days.

Assuming I can find my passport somewhere in the piles and piles of boxes that my wife and I are still unpacking, it looks like I will be in Los Angeles for a junket the weekend of December 1-2.

Four weeks later, on December 29, I will also be in Renton, Washington for the Hollywood Jesus Annual Gathering 2007, where I will be one of the speakers — as will my friend and colleague Jeffrey Overstreet, as well as several members of the HJ staff. I spoke at a similar event two years ago, and it was a blast. (And, hmmm, come to think of it, my wife was pregnant at that time, too.)

If anybody in either of those areas wants to meet, let me know! Just leave a comment below, or — better — write me at the contact address linked at the top of this page.

The Golden Compass — a quick update

Between work and screenings and settling into the new place, I haven’t had any time to blog for the past few days. But here are a few items related to The Golden Compass that came up while I was otherwise occupied.

First, and perhaps most trivially, there is a new featurette on Dakota Blue Richards, the girl who was picked out of thousands of would-be actresses to play the lead character Lyra Belacqua, at Yahoo! Movies and YouTube.

One or two of the interviewees mention that Richards had no prior experience in front of a camera and didn’t really want to be an actress — she just wanted to be Lyra. Hearing those words, I thought it might be neat if Richards never played another character again — kind of like how Carrie Henn, who played Newt so memorably in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986; my comments) when she was nine years old, has never appeared in any other film before or since. It would preserve a certain mystique. But I see that Richards is already working on another film, The Secret of Moonacre — which, incidentally, is being directed by Gabor Csupo, whose last film was Bridge to Terabithia. Ah well.

More substantially, MTV Movies Blog has posted the first part of a weekly interview with writer-director Chris Weitz, and right off the bat, he deals with the religious issues. Some excerpts:

So, how does one go about adapting a book that has controversial elements into a film that a very wide variety of people can enjoy, without betraying the original? One tries to be clever about it. I realized that the overt stating of some of the themes in “The Northern Lights”/”The Golden Compass” would never — this is important to make clear — never EVER get across the goal line. There isn’t a wide enough audience for that — yet. If I wanted to popularize this series of extraordinary books and open them to a wider reading public than ever before, I was going to have to make some compromises. But I also knew that as a filmmaker one has more means of expression than dialogue, and that dialogue is a more subtle business than characters saying exactly what the characters say in the book. Sometimes I transpose elements – for instance, the biblical ideas that Asriel addresses towards the end of the book are voiced in a different context (and at shorter length) by Mrs. Coulter at Bolvangar in the film. Sometimes I turn textual or narrative arguments into visual ideas. . . .

Now, one thing that some of the extremists who have attacked the film are right about is that I would be happy if it made more people read the books – not because I am pursuing any sort of atheist agenda (this is a ridiculous idea), but because they are great works of literature, beautiful, permanent, and unassailable. They’re not going anywhere. And as for those who are concerned that I have not used the word “Church” but only the word “Magisterium” for the bad guys, and that sort of thing, I would advise them to do a little research into the meaning of the word “Magisterium” for starters. Some people will only be satisfied if the film I’ve made is an outright attack on religion, which to me shows that they have misapprehended the meaning of Pullman’s books as much as the “other side.”

It’s true, though, that “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” tread in territory that is much more controversial than the first book. This is also addressed by a bunch of questions that I will lasso under the heading “what next?” Well, though I saw it as my duty to build the franchise of “His Dark Materials” on as solid a grounding as I could, it would all be in vain if the second and third films did not have the intellectual depth and the iconoclasm of the second and third books. The whole point, to me, of ensuring that “The Golden Compass” is a financial success is so that we have a solid foundation on which to deliver a faithful, more literal adaptation of the second and third books. This is important: whereas “The Golden Compass” had to be introduced to the public carefully, the religious themes in the second and third books can’t be minimized without destroying the spirit of these books. There is simply no way to adapt them without dealing with Lyra’s destined role, her secret name, and the war in the heavens. I will not be involved with any “watering down” of books two and three, since what I have been working towards the whole time in the first film is to be able to deliver on the second and third films. If I sense that this is not possible, there’s no point my continuing to work on them. . . .

I have to say, I completely respect and understand the way that Weitz is trying to remain faithful to his source material while satisfying the studio and broadening the story’s appeal. He seems more like Peter Jackson than Andrew Adamson in that regard. But quotes like these just confirm, for me, what I have said before: I hope The Golden Compass is a great film, and I hope it flops.

Finally, MTV News has a story on the reasons behind the decision to move the original ending of The Golden Compass — which has already been filmed — to the beginning of The Subtle Knife.

UPDATE: Oh, I almost forgot, it was also announced that Kate Bush has recorded the song ‘Lyra’ for the movie’s soundtrack. The recording apparently features the Magdalen College Choir, Oxford, which if I’m not mistaken would be the same Oxford college where C.S. Lewis taught for most of his professional career. Hmmm.

Ridley Scott and the ancient religious sites

I like ancient history and mythology and archaeology, so I get a small kick out of the news that Ridley Scott is attached to direct Stones, a “supernatural thriller” the development of which is currently on hold due to the writers’ strike. Variety reports:

Project is a big-scale supernatural thriller revolving around the mysterious destruction of ancient religious sites around the world. It turns out that Stonehenge is the tie that binds together artifacts that still have primeval powers.

[Screenwriter Matt] Cirulnick got the assignment after scripting “Elysium” for New Regency, a film that weaves Greek mythology into a drama. He fixed on the idea that Stonehenge, the great pyramids and other artifacts were built for a specific unified purpose. . . .

Scott, who currently has two movies on the big screen — namely American Gangster and Blade Runner: The Final Cut — will direct this movie after finishing Body of Lies and Nottingham. Let’s just hope Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which reportedly may also link a few ancient religious mysteries together, hasn’t stolen too much of Scott’s thunder by then.

Kirk’s dad and Carol Marcus in Star Trek XI?

The other day I wondered how Winona Ryder could play Spock’s mother in Star Trek XI when she is only six years older than Zachary Quinto, the actor playing Spock.

Well, now reports that Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth, who is 24, is going to play George Samuel Kirk Sr. — father of Captain James T. Kirk, who is being played in the film by Chris Pine, who is 27.

That’s right, the actor playing the dad is younger than the actor playing the son. What gives? I’m guessing flashbacks. Or maybe the rumoured time-travel premise of this movie is even more complicated than we thought.

I wonder if anybody has been hired to play Kirk’s brother, George Samuel Kirk Jr. — whose corpse, briefly seen in the original series, was played by William Shatner. For that matter, I wonder if we will see Kirk’s sister-in-law, Aurelan Kirk, or his nephew, Peter Kirk, who was played by 12-year-old Craig Hundley in the series and was thus presumably born well before the events of this movie.

The site also reports that Jennifer Morrison of House M.D. has been cast in the film, and that the character Carol Marcus appears in the script, and it speculates that there may be a connection between these two things.

The middle-aged Carol Marcus — the mother of Kirk’s by-then adult son David Marcus — was played in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982; my comments) by Bibi Besch, who was 42 at the time, though it is not clear how old the character was supposed to be. Morrison, who would presumably be playing the younger Carol, is 28.

As a reference point, official Star Trek continuity claims that Kirk and Carol had their fling in 2260, David was born in 2261, the events of the original series took place between 2265 and 2269, and the events of ST2:TWOK took place in 2285 — when David was 24 years old and Kirk was 52.

So if Kirk was 27 when David was conceived, it makes sense that Carol would have been in her late 20s, too. But if the film somehow tries to include both Kirk’s fling with Carol and the early days of Kirk’s captaincy, then that could be a bit of a stretch.

Chris Weitz responds to the Atlantic Monthly

Chris Weitz, writer-director of The Golden Compass, has responded to what he calls the “hatchet-job” on his film in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly, in a letter posted at An excerpt:

Hana Rosin’s hatchet-job on my film of Philip Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass (and by extension, me) is so comprehensive in its disdain, one might go so far as to imagine she had seen the movie!

She hasn’t, of course, though that fact was not mentioned in her assemblage of carefully cut-and-pasted quotes and surmises pumped up with paraphrase. One is put in mind of a line from the Good Book: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” For example: it is true that I said that clerics and religious people had been presented as boobs and hypocrites in many Hollywood films in the last few decades. But her statement that this was to me a “solid explanation for why [I’m] not selling out” is entirely her own invention. We were talking about entirely different things at the time during our interview, and the notion that I somehow regard myself as doing the religious right a solid is grotesque.

Elsewhere she simply seems not to have finished her background reading. If she had, when she got to the end of my script she might have noticed that the Genesis story she says I have stricken from the movie is addressed, though in the mouth of the villain Mrs. Coulter. “A long time ago, one of our ancestors made a terrible mistake. They disobeyed the authority. And that is what brought Dust into the world. And ever since then, we’ve been sick. Sick with evil – sick with Dust.” It shouldn’t take much for somebody with half a brain to understand this, and Rosin, who writes about theology, ought to be able to catch it, but evidently it didn’t suit her thesis, which is that I “sold out” the book I happen to love. What did I sell? Who sold the rights to the books? Not me. . . .

In other news, my CT Movies colleagues Josh Hurst and Mark Moring have asked why the Christian community that was so accommodating to The Da Vinci Code (2006) has suddenly turned against The Golden Compass. I can think of a few reasons:

  1. The Golden Compass has been marketed as a children’s story, whereas The Da Vinci Code was ostensibly for adults.

  2. The Golden Compass had lots of fans among sci-fi and fantasy buffs, but it was never a household word — at least not in North America — whereas The Da Vinci Code was such a popular and hotly-debated novel that the Christian community had time to resign itself to the inevitability of the movie.
  3. The Golden Compass is explicitly about the death of God, whereas The Da Vinci Code at least pretends to be on the side of Jesus.

That said, the two books do share a contempt for the church, especially in its Roman Catholic form, as well as a high esteem for the liberating spiritual power of sexuality — even if Philip Pullman personally finds the word “spiritual” somewhat revolting. So the two books do reflect the era in which they were written in a rather similar way, and thus one could argue that they do deserve similar kinds of responses.