Friday, 14 December 2007

Friday Grab Bag: Dust in the Wind Edition

So we saw "The Golden Compass" last night. I was underwhelmed. Having finished re-reading the novel literally yesterday morning it was fresh in my mind and every deviation the film took was painfully obvious. For example (SPOILER ALERTS!): In the movie it isn't the Master of Jordan College who tries to poison Lord Asriel but a lackey from the Magisterium. Mrs. Coulter discovers the alethiometer earlier in the action. The chronology of the trip north is rearranged. The Experimental Station looks like something out of Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" rather than the grimmer setting Pullman describes. And there aren't nearly enough dead children, ie, there are none.

I understand that a movie is different from a novel, and that a book that takes a day and a half to read has to be compressed to two hours. Tough decisions have to be made. I just disagree with most of the ones director Chris Weitz made. Perhaps an American was a poor choice to write and direct. (Though Weitz did graduate from Cambridge and directed the lovely "About a Boy.") Most of the movie is all action and plot-goosing, without any of the heart that Pullman poured into the book.

Nicole Kidman was great as Mrs. Coulter but the girl who played Lyra, Dakota Blue Fanning, had the emotional range of a bollard. She makes Emma Watson look like Laurence Olivier.

I read Stephen Hunter's snippy review of "The Golden Compass" in The Washington Post before seeing it and was annoyed at his potshots at Dust and daemons. But having now seen the film I can see where Hunter was coming from. The movie is a bit of a mess and I don't know how much sense it would make to someone seeing it without reading the books.

Worst of all--to me, anyway--is how little you actually see the freakin' Northern Lights. Pullman describes them often in the book, as in when Lyra first glimpses them: "As if from Heaven itself, great curtains of delicate light hung and trembled. Pale green and rose-pink, and as transparent as the most fragile fabric, and the bottom edge a profound and fiery crimson like the fires of Hell, they swung and shimmered loosely with more grace than the most skillful dancer."

What cinematographer could resist trying to recreate that? And yet in Weitz's film we get something that looks like a set of faded sepia-tone drapes.

BritNews RoundUp
The Daily Mail is again at the forefront of science news, informing readers about the latest in breakthrough technologies. Why, technologies such as "the intelligent bra." "Fitted with tiny sensors," the article explains, "the fabric will monitor and measure even the smallest movement in the breast." The story wouldn't just be an excuse to run a photo of women in their bras and women jogging on the beach, would it?

The British are a tenacious lot, able to survive Dunkirk, the Blitz, IRA bombings...and being stuck for four days in a locked toilet. That's what happened to David Leggat, who was stuck in the toilet of his bowling club after the handle jammed. The cleaning lady who finally rescued Leggat pointed out: "Nobody had been looking for David. A wife might have wondered where he was, but he is not married."

I thought of Sean Taylor when I read this article in the Guardian, about a Liverpool soccer player whose house was robbed while he was off playing a match. His wife and kids were home, though. He's the sixth Liverpool player to be targeted.

Poor Hugh Grant. The chap seemed to have it all: looks, smarts, a sort of stammering charm that many women--including Elizabeth Hurley--found irresistible. There was always something more going on there, I suppose, what with the $50 hooker and all. He's a pretty laughable figure in the tabloids here. A few months ago they printed a photo of him draped with American co-eds whom he was chatting up in a Scottish golf club. And now comes this story about how all the women he was hitting on in a Spanish night club just happened to be, um, prostitutes. Great photos, though.

I'm a hat man, rarely venturing outdoors without some sort of chapeau screwed tightly to my head. That's been hard to do here, though, since I cycle everywhere. I've traded my fedora for a bicycle helmet. Geoffrey Wheatcroft had a nice story about the importance of hats, especially in the winter. I liked it most for learning that the word "titfer" is a synonym for "hat." Where did it come from? It's Cockney rhyming slam: "tit for tat" = "hat," the way "trouble and strife" = "wife."

Flash alert! A dog almost ruined a pie-eating competition by wolfing down 20 pies before the humans had a chance to tuck in after his owner was distracted by a pigeon flying in his chimney. Makes perfect sense to me.

Gargoyle of the Week

This little fellow, snapped by My Lovely Wife, adorns the outside of the Bodleian Library.

I think I might be able to work on a book about the shortcomings of English service providers. The boiler's still on the fritz in our house here, though we have it on good authority that our Silver Spring house is nice and cozy. We'll just have to bundle up this weekend.

I hope you enjoy yours wherever you are. Have a great weekend.


mark from alexandria said...

Just let me say thanks for using the word "snippy." That was a favorite one of my mother's when we were growing up when our mouths got us in trouble ("don't use that snippy tone with me"). Thanks also for "titfer." Insane anglophile that I am, I love to collect cockney rhyming slang and I had missed that one. I'll be having a butchers for some titfers this weekend if we get the worst of the forecast weather.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

Being stuck in a toilet would be my worst nighmare; fortunately, never realized.
The English have a great selection of berets and caps.
It may have been in Apuleius' "Golden Ass' that a man nearly dies of laughter on seeing a donkey gobbling up a dainty feast all by himself.

veronica b. said...

John, I agree with you that "The Golden Compass" film was underwhelming. I saw it opening night, and at most opening night performance I have been to there is applause and cheering at the end. None in this case.

I think a longer, better narration at the beginning could have set the story more firmly. One of my largest disappointments was that I got no sense of fear or horror at the severed children. When Lyra comes upon Billy Costa in the shack, it was like she found a missing child: how sad, and he is so cold. But the horror described in the book was missing, and that took away the sense of urgency, the sense of mission.

I could go on! But I won't

Anonymous said...

Ordinarily I think blokes who wear titfers are right merchants...they're either trying to hide a dodgy Barnett or a sad syrup, or they're second-hand car salesmen, journalists, and other people who tell porkies for a living. But John is an honourable exception and a diamond geezer, (apart from his obsession with the Daily Mail's obsession with Bristols).

Anonymous said...

I had high hopes when they cast Kidman as Coulter. But it is a mess.

Here's a take by a guy at Swarthmore who had also hoped for better. His commenters have some good thoughts, and he himself comments with some good ideas, down in his comments, of how this story could have worked.

Dixie from Sydney said...

I LOVE your blog!! I've only read the last week (and I probably should stop because I'm at work), but it has made me laugh and brought a smile to my face. I'll have to add it to my Favorites. Say hi to everyone for me and good luck on your boiler!