“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.

That’s my sister in the newspaper.

Nothing film-related here. Just a quick note to say that my sister Monica was quoted and depicted in the local daily paper The Province this morning, in a story about the strike that has seen garbage collectors, library workers, community centre employees and many other people on the picket lines for almost three months now. FWIW, my wife also works at the library — or would, if it weren’t for the strike — and it was my sister who introduced us.

Evan Almighty — an audio commentary

Several months ago, I recorded an audio commentary for The Nativity Story with my priest. Today, Evan Almighty comes out on DVD, so we recorded a commentary for that, too. You can download all 90.7 megabytes of it by right-clicking here.

Star Trek: The Menagerie on the big screen

Coming November 13. And it’s the enhanced-effects version. They have not yet said which Canadian theatres will show it, but stay tuned, etc. Even though I have no intention of buying the HD-DVD set that comes out the following week, I think I just may have to catch this. If only my children were old enough to join me.

The Golden Compass — a new teaser

This would seem to confirm the rumour that Sir Ian McKellen has assumed the part of the voice of Iorek Byrnison.

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Compare it to the voice that the bear had in this earlier teaser:

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John Carter of Mars — a trilogy of Pixar films?

John Carter of Mars, a space fantasy based on a series of stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan the Ape Man fame, has had an interesting ride through “development hell”.

A few years ago, Robert Rodriguez was attached to direct a movie of this name, but the opportunity to do so fell through when he quit the Directors Guild over the credits for Sin City (2005; my review). (Rodriguez’s two films since then — 2005′s Shark Boy & Lava Girl and this year’s Grindhouse — were both flops.)

Then the project went to Jon Favreau, who ultimately ankled the film and has since been working on the Iron Man movie.

And now … it’s a Pixar film!? Yup, according to ERBzine:

The Pixar creative team spent Tuesday morning exploring the massive Edgar Rice Burroughs archives in the ERB, Inc. offices on Ventura Blvd. Pixar’s Jim Morris (vp), Andrew Stanton (director), Mark Andrews (script) discussed the “John Carter of Mars” film project with Burroughs representatives, Danton Burroughs, Sandra Galfas and Jim Sullos.

All six members at the meeting expressed a deep commitment to the project, acknowledging that they had been inspired by Burroughs’ creations from a very early age. This is evidenced in the excitement held for the John Carter property and the plans for a film trilogy faithful to the Burroughs books. Projected release date is sometime before 2012.

A trilogy! Stanton, BTW, is the Oscar-winning director of Finding Nemo (2003) and the upcoming WALL-E, while Andrews has worked on all three of Brad Bird’s feature films, as well as one of my personal favorites, the non-Pixar Osmosis Jones (2001).

There are a striking number of “firsts” here, for Pixar.

First, this would seem to be the first Pixar film that was adapted from a book or some similar pre-existing work. So far, while some Pixar films have seemed a bit derivative of other movies, they have all been “original” stories in the technical sense.

Second, this would seem to mark the first time that Pixar has gone into production with the intention of making a trilogy. True, a second sequel is currently in the works for Toy Story (1995), but the original film was made as a stand-alone. If memory serves, the second film was originally conceived as a straight-to-video project, before it got promoted, while the third film was fiercely resisted by Pixar prior to the company’s acquisition by Disney — at which point the sequel that Disney had been developing on its own was scrapped in favour of a homegrown Pixar project.

Third, as reported by IESB.net back in June, this would seem to be the first Pixar film to mix live-action footage with animation — and depending on when it comes out in relation to Brad Bird’s 1906, it just might be the first Pixar film to use live-action, period.

Of course, these days, most live-action fantasy movies use lots of special effects that are computer-generated — so most fantasy movies mix live-action footage with animation anyway. It will be interesting to see whether the animation in this film goes beyond the traditional special-effects route, and if so, in what way.