Friday, December 07, 2007

HACKWORK FOR THE LORD. As I am not into hobbits or gremlins or witches or wardrobes or any of that CGI guff, I certainly won't see The Golden Compass. I am intrigued by the weird negative criticism of the film at National Review. I don't mean it's weird that the criticism is negative -- such a result was preordained, as Compass twits the Holy Mother Church, and the Review is pretty much an Opus Dei front organization. But I thought they'd at least use actual film critics to review it. Instead, they enlist Gina R. Dalfonzo, editor of Charles Colson's ultra-Jesusy online mag, and a Review "editorial associate" (intern?) named Emily Karrs. Neither of them seem to know or care much about movies, which is probably why they were picked for the job.

Dalfonzo's employers are clearly up in arms about the movie. Colson's "director of strategic processes in the Operational Advisory Services team for Campus Crusade for Christ" -- wonder what his uniform looks like; lots of gold braid, I expect -- warns the flock that children are being taught this filth in schools and "Christian parents ought to stand guard on behalf of the next generation." And Dalfonzo cites another colleague's "take" which is basically a rundown of Compass' Bad Thoughts.

That's mainly what's on Dalfonzo's mind, too. In her Review piece she complains that the plot gets confusing, but she likes some of the acting. And that's it, as far as aesthetics go -- just enough to convince somebody (if only Dalfonzo) that it's criticism, just like in the newspapers, and not a hit piece. But most of the text is about Philip Pullman's "appalling moral relativism" and general lack of Jesus.

As for Miss Karrs, her critical method relies too much on negative adjectives, and too little on explaining what exactly went wrong:
...Scenes in the books are shuffled or invented out of whole cloth and characters are rearranged and renamed. Many of the questions that are posed by the variety of moralities among species of conscious beings in the world are swept away in the script, so the film focuses on CGI rather than substance.

Ineptly cannibalizing its own themes in a hope to be all things to all people, the film ends up an exercise in vapidity rather than a great new epic. Such is the price of seeking to adapt a book that propagandizes for an unpopular philosophy into a major motion picture. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, the conversation of the computer-animated daemons sparkling, and Kidman nearly shatters the screen with her icy glamour as the deliciously wicked Mrs. Coulter. Yet despite so much technical richness, the film still feels empty.
I'm still waiting to hear what was wrong with the film as a film -- That it's different from the book? That it has too little blasphemous philosophical discussion to hold a teenager's attention? -- as opposed to what her priest would think was wrong with it if he saw it.

Why not use critics who could actually explain these things well? Because, for the most part, their reactions aren't predictable. They might perversely enjoy the film, or dislike it in a way that isn't sufficiently contemptuous. And they certainly wouldn't have the appropriate talking points memorized, nor would they be inclined to devote 80 percent of a review to them.

Again, for such people art is nothing but an opportunity for or threat against their power.

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