The Golden Compass — more preview footage

Yahoo! Movies and the official website for The Golden Compass have both posted the extended preview reel that played at Comic-Con recently. The actors look great, the visual effects look great, the music sounds great, and darn it, I find it all rather moving. If this were any other film, I would be very much looking forward to watching it. (Scratch that: I am very much looking forward to watching it.) But, alas, all the excellence on display is tainted by the fact that we all know where this will lead, if and when the sequels follow the story to its conclusion. Sigh.

Ouch. or Zing! Take your pick.

Here are the first two sentences from John Anderson’s review of Daddy Day Camp for Variety magazine:

Some former child stars have been known to overdose on drugs, get busted for carrying guns, pose nude for Playboy and appear on late-night infomercials. Fred Savage has directed “Daddy Day Camp.”

So, um, comparatively speaking, that’s a good thing, right…?

Review: The Bourne Ultimatum (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2007)

In this high-tech digital age, the makers of high-profile action movies sometimes like to brag about how they used real cars and real stunts — even when some of the defining images in their films couldn’t possibly exist without pixels on a screen. (Yes, Live Free or Die Hard, I’m pointing at you and that spinning airborne car that just happens to miss our hero by a hair.) But every now and then, along comes a film that really seems to have happened in front of the cameras — and The Bourne Ultimatum is just such a film.

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The Bourne Ultimatum — the review’s up!

My review of The Bourne Ultimatum is now up at CT Movies.

One angle I don’t pursue in this review is the comparison or contrast that some have made between Jason Bourne and James Bond. Matt Damon himself told the Associated Press:

Bond is “an imperialist and he’s a misogynist. He kills people and laughs and sips martinis and wisecracks about it,” Damon, 36, told The Associated Press in an interview. . . .

“Bourne is this paranoid guy. He’s on the run. He’s not the government. The government is after him. He’s a serial monogamist who’s in love with his dead girlfriend and can’t stop thinking about her,” Damon said. “He’s the opposite of James Bond.” . . .

Damon said he bumped into former Bond star Pierce Brosnan in London and they chatted briefly about how the British super-spy’s movie handlers were trying to update the character with last fall’s “Casino Royale,” which introduced Daniel Craig as Bond.

Brosnan told him the aesthetics and style of Bond can be updated “but fundamentally, what the character is is something from the 1960s,” Damon said.

There may be some truth to Damon’s characterization of Bond if he is thinking of the Roger Moore movies — but that Bond was very different from the character Ian Fleming created in the 1950s. The Bond of the books certainly wrestled with the moral implications of his missions, and he wasn’t quite the rampant hedonist that we saw in the films. (Hedonist, sure, but not quite so rampant.)

I have not read all of the James Bond books, but I have seen all of the movies, and the differences between them may be particularly obvious if we look at the two versions of Moonraker (published 1955, filmed 1979). If memory serves, Bond doesn’t bed anyone in that book — though admittedly not for lack of trying. There is a woman with an engagement ring, who Bond assumes is wearing the ring in order to ward off attention from the villain, but at the end of the book it turns out the woman really is engaged, and Bond chides himself for not allowing for the possibility that the engagement ring was genuine. In the film, on the other hand, Bond beds something like half-a-dozen women, just to kill the time.

Also, in the book version of Moonraker, Bond seriously considers a suicide attack, destroying a missile on its launch pad in such a way that Bond himself would die, but the millions of people living in London would be spared. Say what you will about Bond’s personal life, but he is serving his country (and the planet, in some of the wilder movies), and he puts his life on the line to do so.

And what about Bourne? “He’s not the government,” says Damon — but would being the government necessarily be a bad thing? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bourne character, and I love the Bourne films. But I don’t think Bourne is inherently morally superior to Bond simply because he fights to protect himself, whereas Bond fights to protect his fellow citizens. (In the newest film, by the way, Bourne actually puts an innocent civilian in harm’s way; maybe that civilian will be released by the CIA eventually, but given how lethal and paranoid the CIA are in these films, who knows?)

It seems to me that Bond and Bourne are both escapist adventure heroes, but heroes who address different needs. And just as there is room for both conventional wisdom and subversive wisdom in our philosophies and theologies, so too there is room in our collective imagination for heroes who fight on behalf of earthly powers and heroes who fight against those same powers.

What a time to change a movie’s title.

If you had made a film based on Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, and you had rushed it into production, and you had already released a lame trailer, and you were only two months away from releasing the film itself, what do you think you would do?

If you were Fox-Walden, you would change the title! That’s right, The Dark Is Rising — the title of both the book on which this film is based, and the five-book series of which the book is a part — now goes by the official title The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising.

So if they make sequels, will they all be released as part of a series called The Seeker? (And will fans approve of this name?) Or are they putting the title of the individual story ahead of the title of the entire series, a la The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)?

The Simpsons — bigger than Pixar!

The Simpsons Movie broke a few records this past weekend. With over $74 million in the till as of Sunday, it had the third-biggest opening weekend of any animated film ever; it lags behind only the two Shrek sequels. That means it had a bigger opening than any film by Pixar (The Incredibles, 2004, $70.5 million), Disney (The Lion King, 1994, $40.9 million), Fox / Blue Sky (Ice Age: The Meltdown, 2006, $68 million), Warner (Happy Feet, 2006, $41.5 million), Paramount (The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, 2004, $32 million) or any other movie studio, save DreamWorks.

Seeing the Simpsons on the big screen brought back some weird memories. In fact, the first time I saw the Simpsons was on the big screen. It was the late 1980s, and the one- or two-minute clips that were originally produced for The Tracy Ullman Show (1987-1990) were included as interstitial segments in at least one of the animation festivals that my friends and I attended at the time. (I vividly recall Homer and Marge expressing their displeasure at the way Bart and Lisa behaved at a funeral.) Come to think of it, I might have encountered the Simpsons at one of the very same festivals where I first saw Pixar’s Tin Toy (1988).

Needless to say, seeing the new movie — a mega-merchandised event attended by millions of devoted fans — does not even begin to compare to the thrill of discovering these characters when they were more obscure. And it certainly doesn’t help that the TV show, and thus the franchise as a whole, has been in decline for at least a decade. The Simpsons Movie still has some good laughs, though. Possibly not enough to warrant buying a ticket … but several gags are of the sort that work best only in a movie theatre. So you might as well see it anyway — especially with a crowd.