Sunday, December 09, 2007

I Want an Ice Bear

Think of the benefits!

*Winter commuting would be fun for a change.

*Department meetings would run smoothly (or else!).

*No whining in class!


(I once did a special evening behind the scenes visit to a zoo, which involved standing in the polar bear hibernation room with the door closed for a few minutes, and I have to say, the stench was pretty daunting--though it was obviously clean, and summertime. So maybe the whole cuddling thing is out? Hmm, do Ice Bears hibernate? That would mess with my whole winter commuting plans.)

And could I also get a compass, please?

Compass says, "no, your grandma is alive and well in a city filled with snow!" Go directly to your final. Do not pass go. Do not collect an A.


As you can guess, I went to see The Golden Compass yesterday, and enjoyed it. I thought the music was mostly especially good. I'd read a review on Pharyngula the other day, so I wasn't expecting to like it, but I have the advantage of not having read the book, so I wasn't disappointed in that "can't live up to the book" way. Myers specifically talked about being disappointed by the lack of blood in the fights, especially the bit polar bear fight, but it reminded me of the fantasy way of some MMORPGs I've played, and that's sort of the point of being a fantasy. (WOW has little drops of blood fly when something's been hit, if I recall, but it doesn't collect or anything. EQ just has a sort of rebound effect when something's hit--only, I think, for the one doing the hitting or being hit?)

There's a bit of ado in Wisconsin about the movie; a Catholic bishop in La Crosse has "cautioned" priests about the movie. The idea is that it's supposed to be anti-religion or something. Okay, the Magisterium maps onto the Catholic church fairly clearly, but a lot of US culture is pretty anti-Catholic, and yet pro-religion, no? To me, the movie didn't seem so much anti-religious, as anti-kill kids for stupid reasons.

It took me a moment to recognize Derek Jacobi as the Magisterial Emissary; but for me, he's not quite scary enough somehow? Maybe it's all those Brother Cadfael mysteries where he's a Benedictine (?) monk in the middle ages who somehow has shockingly humane views on human foibles?

And why, oh why, does the movie do a weirdly stereotypical thing with the daemons? Why are servant daemons dogs? Is there some essentialism to class in the GC world? Why aren't the best folks daemons bees or snakes? Those are some danged cool critters, no? Why, if it's going to be anti-religion, can't it at least THINK about shaking up the whole Genesis anti-snake thing? I like snakes. In much the same way I like wolves; they fascinate and amaze me, but I don't want to interfere with them except to admire from afar. But they don't scare me in some deep way, more induce grateful respect, if that makes sense? Okay, being too close to a cobra OR a wolf would be scary.

I thought Dakota Blue Richards was outstanding as Lyra; she carried the movie rather well, no? And, it's nice to see a girl look like a girl in a movie for a change rather than looking like a sexpot in the making.

I'm going to read the book (when I get a chance after Mura and such), because I'm interested in the Mrs. Coulter part. Sexy woman=evil. Hmm, where have I seen that before? If that's the point, though, Nicole Kidman hit nailed it in a scary fantasy way.

What did you folks think?


  1. I haven't seen the movie yet, but in response to your confusion about the anti-religion bent: the books are *strongly* atheist, although that doesn't really come out in the first one at all (which might be why the movie didn't seem atheist).

    I've read the books and have mixed feelings about them, actually. I liked the first one, really liked the second one, and felt that the third went in highly disappointing directions and more or less fell apart. Yet everyone else in the world (save the Boyfriend, who agrees with me--we're such a good match) seems to love the books unconditionally, so what do I know.

  2. I also haven't seen the movie, but I know the books fairly well. The daemons are the same as they are in the book, from what I understand, so we can take that up with Pullman.

    I think I recall Pullman describing the trilogy as a Blakean take on Paradise Lost, only with adolescents. Although Pullman is an atheist, I don't consider the trilogy to be necessarily anti-religion. I do think it is highly critical of institutional hierarchy. There is, in the later books, a character who receives a lot of attention from critics of the trilogy. She is a former nun and she describes religion as a lie. But I don't know if this is the conclusion readers necessarily take from the book - especially considering the last few lines of the final book. It can be interpreted as a case for liberatory theology.

    There is a fairly interesting article about it here:

    Pullman's work is very complex, and many of the recent critics of the books and the movie haven't treated the texts as the complex works they are. Plus, I think it's hilarious that these books have been out for over a decade and these groups are just now getting around vilifying it. And anyway, if this one set of books (which really are for middle school and high school aged readers) is enough to turn a kid atheist, the kid's faith probably wasn't all that strong to begin with.

    Sorry to rant. I'm not completely uncritical of the books, but some of the attacks have been laughable and, in terms of the texts, inaccurate. And, I'm less enamored with the final book b/c I find it the most didactic.

  3. Anonymous3:13 PM

    Yes, the class thing is in Pullman, he makes the servants' daemons dogs. That was something I was thinking about just recently - it does suggest a kind of class essentialism. Though since people's daemons don't settle till they hit puberty, it's not class-by-birth - it's sort of weird to think he's suggesting that one becomes a servant because one has a servant's soul, though. It's worth remembering that I think the British are much more willing to recognize class than Americans are, though.

    I think some of the bad people = "creepy" daemons in the movie is a little more simplistic than in the books - I think it has more of an impact visually than it's really meant to in the books.

    And if you think about it, it's interesting that Lyra's daemon spends so much time in the form of a weasel!

    As for anti-Christianity - the movie isn't, especially, it's just anti-bad authority. But I think the books are fairly clearly anti-Christian (or at least anti-religion) - the Magisterium is clearly the Christian church (the papacy is dismantled after Pope John Calvin, tee hee!), there are angels, there's God, the children kill God, there's a lot about original sin... and Pullman is an avowed atheist. Now, myself, I figure part of the pleasure of living in the modern Western world is that people can write what they like and people can read what they like, and if people don't like Pullman's work, they don't have to read it! Plus, I think it's stupid to feel that atheist works are somehow a "threat" to Christians - it's just another view. After all, I grew up reading the Narnia books and I adore them, but they didn't exactly make me Christian. So I think it's dumb for churches to get freaked out about the books. But then, I'm not a devout person!

    I think the movie makes Mrs. Coulter more explicitly sexy than she is in the book - and even in the movie, it's really just that first scene where she shimmies in wearing gold sequins that she's actually sexy; otherwise she's just beautiful and beautifully dressed, and I guess I'd make a distinction. She's beautiful in the book, but that kind of beautiful adult that dazzles children, not a sexpot. Personally I think Mrs. Coulter's more the fairy godmother gone wrong figure than the sexy woman = evil. She's certainly feminine, though, and in the first book she's one of the few feminine figures, which is interesting to consider (probably the other most significant woman is Billy Costa's mother, and she plays a bigger role in the books than in the movie). She stands as a contrast to the masculinity of Jordan College. But her role also gets much more complex in the next two books. Nicole Kidman was pretty awesome, though.

    I didn't have a problem with the lack of blood in the fights, myself - I don't think the book was particularly gory in that respect, either; things can be bad and horrifying without being gory. (I haven't read the Pharyngula review, though.) You can portray fights interestingly without being Ridley Scott and lovingly filming every little drop and spray of blood a la Gladiator. ;-)

    I'm with heu mihi and k8 on the books, I think that the 3rd is rather disappointing. Granted, I do love the series, so I love it as part of the series, but I think it's much less coherent and I'm not sure Pullman really comes up with a solution to the conundrum he's created (heh, it's a little like the Matrix trilogy!). The second book is wonderful though - I think the first is actually my favorite, but it really is doing the work of setting up the whole framework, so in some respects the second book is probably better.

    And I want an ice bear, too. I cried in almost all the scenes with Iorek.

  4. Wow - I love New Kid's review! I haven't read the books; in fact, I know next to nothing about them - other than the recent dust-up (pun intended) in the media. I saw the movie today, however, and really enjoyed it: beautifully filmed, with gorgeous costuming and very good acting all around. Definitely a nice way to spend an afternoon.

    What I'm really excited about is the trailer I saw for Prince Caspian. Cannot wait to see that this summer!!

  5. I've only just finished the first book, and saw the movie Saturday ...

    And damn, do I ever want the alethiometer. I figure it would *really help me finish up my dissertation. I love how it's a tool that works on the premise of close reading and connotation. I somehow think New Critics would approve.

    I think the dustup about the anti-Catholicism thing is going on everywhere the film is being screened. A colleague who works on Pullman did an OpEd piece for the local paper about democracy v. theocracy and free inquiry/interpretation v. limited 'reading' strategies via a solid analysis of the film and novel. The local rag got the proverbial bags of mail in response. I can't believe (as other posters have noted above) that it's only *now that the dust is being kicked up. There's an irony in the fact that it takes moving the book to the big screen to catch folks' attention.

    Not at all sold on Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter. Beautiful, evil, yes. But not in the same way that Mrs. Coulter is in the novel.

    And the ending ... wow. Wait till you read the ending of Northern Lights, B. It literally took my breath away in a way that the movie just didn't manage to do.

    They got Serifina Pekaala just right though ... If just right is "just like I imagined her in my head".

  6. Anonymous12:53 PM

    What I find the most amusing about this whole thing is the notion that the movie and the book series promote atheism. If the protagonist is meant to kill god, isn't it rather promoting deicide?

  7. Religious groups have damned the books for some time; there were protests when the third one appeared in the US.

  8. Anonymous7:03 PM

    I am a big fan of the books and was so excited about seeing the movie. I really enjoyed it and felt they did a good job of getting a pretty lengthy book into a compact film (Tom Stoppard was working on the screenplay at one point though - can you imagine how awesome that would have been?!). I was disappointed by the ending of the film though, since it stops the story early, cutting out the entire final section of the book. I was all ready for a big old cry and then felt thwarted. So I recommend reading the book rather than waiting for the next film in order to get that wonderful emotional experience.

  9. Thanks for your comments, folks. As an atheist, I was hoping for a stronger statement. Maybe when I read?

    Liz, good point: if you are out to kill a god, then you've got to acknowledge that god's existence. Hmmm.

    The class thing is weird; that also got me in the Potter series, the whole house elf thing where they like slavery. Seems so bizarre at this point.

    It WOULD have been cool if Stoppard had written the screenplay (did he?)

  10. Anonymous2:52 PM

    Alas no, Stoppard was commissioned to write the script but the studio rejected his version, apaprently :(