Of long absences

Sorry about the long absence. Organising much of the Melbourne Archdiocese’s participation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions left me knackered, to use a good ol’ Aussie-Brit expression.

Well, there is another long absence that I found myself idly wondering about just the other day: Whatever happened to the promised sequel to the 2007 film “The Golden Compass”? You may remember the film – even perhaps the books by Philip Pullman. I wrote a review of the novels for Kairos some time ago (“Some Very Dark Materials” – you will forgive me for mentioning that this piece won an award, which gives me an objective if not strong basis for calling myself an “award winning writer” on my CV).

The first film came out, but then… nothing. Well, actor Sam Elliott, who had a starring role in the film, reckons that it was the Catholic Church that did in the projected series of sequels. Well, there you go. Religion poisons everything, as Hitchens would say.

Actually, it is probably a good thing the series ended after the first film. I saw the film, and it wasn’t as problematic as the novel, but then the first novel is the lightest of the three – it gets really, really worrying as the story progresses. So I’m not sad there won’t be anymore. Mr Pullman’s nihilistic philosophy does not need to be promoted in this way.

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17 responses to “Of long absences

  1. Peregrinus

    Welcome back! I’m looking forward to a few stimulating pieces about what went on in the Parliament.

    Haven’t read the Dark Materials books. Saw the film and greatly enjoyed it, particularly the imaginative realisation of an alternative world. My enjoyment was increased by the fact that much of the film was shot in Oxford, a city I know very well, Spotting familiar haunts in a fictional universe is always fun.

    There was a negative message in it, but I would say it was anti-Church rather than anti-religion or anti-God. It was pretty heavy-handed, evoking all the finest stereotypes of renaissance cardinals pouring poisonous powders into drinks that they are about to offer to particularly despised enemies. Just in case we missed the point, they dragged in a bit of cold war symbolism that was, frankly, past its use-by date, but still quite fun. Plus, they made sure that a lot of the foot-soldiers on the baddies’ side had slanty eyes.

    I wouldn’t have brought my (then) seven-year old daughter to see it, but more because of the battle scenes, which would have disturbed her. For the same reason I didn’t bring her to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which came out at around the same time.

    I understand Sam Elliott’s disappointment at the sequels not being made. An actor can really clean up if they are the obvious choice for a major role in a sequel to an already successful film; they can negotiate a very nice fee indeed. I’m sceptical, though, that the Catholic church is suppressing it. For all of Bill O’Reilly’s bloviating in the article that you link to, it’s clear that the boycott he called for was not a success; the film grossed $200 million more that it cost, which is an investor’s dream.

    The real reason, from what you say, may lie in the increasing darkness of the books. The producers may simply feel that to adapt them into films which will engage children they will have to strip out too much, and what is left will be too thin, but if they orient the later films towards an adult market they will fail, since the first film was very much aimed at children, as are the books. Another factor could be that the production company, New Line, has since 2007 been absorbed into Warner Brothers, and now produces a smaller number of films each year. For example, in 2007 New Line released 12 films, including The Golden Compass; in 2009, so far, they have released 5, with one more due. The result is that they have a larger bank of options and film rights than they are likely to use in the next few years. They can either sit on them and make the films later, or sell them to other studios. So far they have chosen to sit on the Dark Materials rights, which are still officially “in development”.

    • I’m looking forward to a few stimulating pieces about what went on in the Parliament

      I have not downloaded my photos. When I do, I will do a short write up. However, my impressions should not be taken as representative, as I was so tied up with our own programs that in the whole week, I only got to two other sessions!

      Saw the film and greatly enjoyed it, particularly the imaginative realisation of an alternative world

      I actually enjoyed the film too, for the same reason. Mr Pullman is a man of extraordinary imagination, and so it is more the pity that he uses his gifts for “the dark side” rather than for “the light”. He is a very strong critic of C.S. Lewis’ fiction, and I must say that I agree with him on this score. If Mr Pullman were a Christian writer, the novels that would result would, I believe, far exceed that of Lewis’ stories, and perhaps even equal that of Tolkien for sheer imagination.

      There was a negative message in it, but I would say it was anti-Church rather than anti-religion or anti-God

      You have to read the novels to get that. The “anti-Church” stuff is consistent all the way through the novels, but the novels become increasingly anti-God. There is, however, at no point any mention of Jesus Christ (or equivalent) in the novels. He is by-passed entirely.

      I wouldn’t have brought my (then) seven-year old daughter to see it, but more because of the battle scenes, which would have disturbed her. For the same reason I didn’t bring her to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which came out at around the same time.

      We didn’t take our kids to the LW&W either, but they saw it later on DVD, which was less “in your face”. I think the films of Lewis are a vast improvement on the novels. The directors have imagined what Lewis should have written. We have never shown the Golden Compass to our children for fear that they might want us to read them the stories.

      The real reason, from what you say, may lie in the increasing darkness of the books.

      I think this is the truth of the matter. I really don’t know how they could have sold the sequels (which include things like visits to “hell/hades” and underage sex) as “children’s films”. All far too scarey. And it is never clear who is exactly the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.

  2. Paul

    Hi David, welcome back. I haven’t read any of the Pullman books, but if I may go off on a tangent, with children’s education as the tenuous link to your article….

    Here in NSW, the state government has given permission for a trial of a secular alternative to Scripture classes in primary schools. The group promoting this calls it an “ethics course” and they have set up a facebook page to promote it. An enquiring person called James has tried to start a discussion on the facebook page on the very relevant question “Where do secular ethics come from?”, but so far no-one has bothered to respond to him – I wonder why.
    You can read what James has to say at
    http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=153383382362&topic=10540

    If the silence lasts much longer, I’ll have to reply to James, because he deserves a response.

    • Tom

      Do people not get the irony of campaigning against religious scripture classes through an institution called the St James Ethics Center?

      Seriously? Have all these people just missed this?

      • Peregrinus

        I don’t think they are “campaigning against religious scripture classes”. They are pointing out that children whose parents opt them out of SRE classes do not receive ethics/values education. They see this – rightly, in my view – as a lack. It is their belief that “all students are entitled to meaningful instruction, ethical exploration and the associated benefits”. They advocate a programme which would offer “an ethics-based complement to scripture in NSW primary schools”.

        I struggle to see this an anti-religious move. Aquinas affirms the possibility of ethical standards derived from reason alone, and I can think of no reason why we would advocate that non-religious people should be denied opportunities for reflection on or education in rational ethics, or why we would see attempts to facilitate this as anti-religious campaigning.

        The St James Ethics Centre is so called because it was established by the Anglican parish of St James, in Sydney. It no longer has any formal link with the parish, and is committed to “openness to those of any and no religious faith”. So campaigning against religion isn’t something I’d expect them to be engaged in.

        • Tom

          was just looking at that facebook page is all, and they were all going on moaning about how religious education shouldn’t be funded by the state etc. Wasn’t a big point, the irony of it just struck me.

          Also, if you look on their website, there is extraordinarily little there of any seriousness. Most of it is just bizarre rantings. That ethics is subjective came up several times that I read. It’s a good thing Satre and Heidegger have been reduced to this, otherwise it might take some effort to engage with them.

    • Peregrinus

      I can’s say why James hasn’t had a response, but the reason may be that he’s asking his question in the wrong place. I don’t know who’s running the Facebook page, but I note that none of the attempts to get a discussion going there have really caught fire. This may have something to do with the fact that the St James Ethics Centre has its own discussion forum, accessible through its own website. James might get more of a response if he tried posting there.

  3. Tom

    The books were sub-par. Entertaining enough to read the first time round, when I went to re-read them, I found myself very bored very quickly (this is unusual for me: I’ve read and re-read Harry Potter maybe 20 times, and I don’t even want to think how much time I’ve spent reading Eddings). At the end of that article you linked to, Pullman apparently wrote ‘if he wanted to send a message he’d write a sermon,’ but I think that was why the books could never bear re-reading – they were far too heavy handed. His entire 3rd book is a sermon, and a particularly boring one at that. Heaven is apparently Hell, Hell is apparently Heaven, and Angels are homosexual.

    The movie was even worse, lacked all the explanation in the books, and was even more anti-Church than the books were (the one who tried to poison Daniel Craig’s character was meant to be from the University, not the Church). It’s a bit like the Harry Potter films in that regard, except starting from a much weaker beginning. The HP films are terrible renditions of the books (if entertaining in their own right), except if you haven’t read the books they will get steadily more confusing (a friend of mine who hasn’t read the books said he didn’t have a clue what was happening in HP&HBP).

    Yeah it flopped cause it was a bad film. As one of the comments on that article wrote, $85 million return (US alone) is poor. It’s very poor – LotR and HP made hundreds of millions in the US, each film, (I think that internationally, the first 2 HP films together made around $1.1 billion). True, $300 mill (internationally) return isn’t bad on a $100 million investment, but it’s not as good as a $500-600 million return, which, with really big movies, is possible.

    • I’ve read and re-read Harry Potter maybe 20 times

      Really, Tom? I have read them twice (once to myself, and once to my children). I still haven’t worked out the more difficult parts of the plot (like was Snape a good guy or a bad guy? and How exactly did the elder wand come into it?). Maybe I just have to read them 18 more times…

      Personally, I don’t think Rowling is such a good writer. Reading her books aloud to my children often gave rise to terrible tongue twisters – as if she had not sounded her sentences out in her head before writing them. And she had an ann0ying habit of giving us a whole paragraph of dialogue before telling us who said it and how they said it – very annoying for someone who has to read it aloud complete with voice changes for the characters!

      The HP films are terrible renditions of the books (if entertaining in their own right), except if you haven’t read the books they will get steadily more confusing (a friend of mine who hasn’t read the books said he didn’t have a clue what was happening in HP&HBP).

      I agree with you there, and so would my kids. They watched the fifth film on DVD last Christmas, immediately after completing reading the fifth novel. (Actually, to be honest, we have a rule that they can’t see the film unless they have read the book, and so I spent 5 hours on a day late in December reading the last 3rd of the book to them and their cousins before they watched the movie). Apparently, my reading made more of an impression than the film which disappointed them no end. They were even more angry when they came out of the last movie (no. 6 – the Half Blood Prince). We are glad that the final book will be divided into two movies, or it could hardly escape being complete rubbish. As you say for those who haven’t read the books or (God help them) seen the previous movies, HP&tHBP was a confusing mess.

      • Tom

        The joy of reading and re-reading books (especially Harry Potter, because of the way JKR writes) is finding all the hidden clues that you never noticed the first time. Also, I started reading HP when I was in year 12 and doing the HSC. So rather than study, I read and re-read HP. It was pretty awesome.

        Also, I have no idea how you can possibly think that the movies produced in the last two or three years of Lewis’ books can possibly be conceived as better than the books. That’s just blowing my mind right now.

        Also, re: Snape – he’s a good guy.

        Elder Wand – part of the way in which Humans attempt to flee from death. The whole HP series is about coming to terms with the meaning of Death, and the two possible answers. Do we run from death because we fear oblivion? or do we face death knowing that life continues? In this sense HP series has a profoundly religious message.

        • Yeah, Snape is definitely a good guy, except that Dumbledore was very wrong to insist on the murder-suicide pact. A very bad action by a man essentially on the side of the good guys.

      • Tom

        PS. I’m very glad your children came out of the 6th movie angry. I was ropable – it was just trash, and about 1/3 of the movie wasn’t even in the book. Made me even more mad. I don’t get why the script writers think they can do a better job telling a story than the original author…

  4. matthias

    Let’s bash the Catholics ,yes it’s all their fault regarding Climate change,the earthquake in indonesia and the pitiful state of Australian film making
    oh and the Protestants for ,well subscribing to the same beliefs-minus papal infallibility etc- as the RCC .
    Let’s blame Christianity overall Sam Elliott,rather than singling out the RCC and trying to get the Baptist /Pentecostals and others onside.
    Let’s not blame shonky story lines or bad direction or a lack of substance-that’s where he gets his money of course.
    May Sam Elliotts chickens turn to emus and knock his dunny (outhouse) door down.Then you you can wakeup and smell something other than roses

  5. Matthias

    Yes just getting somethings off my chest before the end of the year.

  6. matthias

    Tom -very good,Iforgot the Church Calendar. Well then i was vexing forth because i am a Collingwood supporter ,anxious that we can get apremiership 20 years on form our last one. And ifyou are an American ,youwould have no clue as to what i have just said.