Saturday, January 19, 2008

Weitz and Darks

So it seems Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy will not make it intact to the movie screen any time soon. After the The Golden Compass' holiday season box office belly flop, New Line has no desire to invest in two more controversial atheist fantasy films that don't seem to interest Americans. (The movies did better overseas, where audiences are smarter and therefore more receptive to this kind of message. Wait, did I say that out loud or just think it?)

This is a shame. Not because The Golden Compass was terrific - it was stridently mediocre and rushed, rushed, rushed. (Here's my original review). It's a shame because these books get better as they go along, and because the one-half of the team o' doofuses responsible for American Pie, surely one of the most overrated comedies of our time, messed up the only adaptation we're likely to get in the near future.

Why was Chris Weitz put in control of this project? What in his filmography convinced the New Line execs that he was up to adapting a popular, controversial series of intricately-plotted fantasy novels, or any film series told on kind of massive scale? Before this, he directed American Pie with his brother, then the miserable Chris Rock disaster Down to Earth, then the slightly-above-average Hugh Grant comedy About a Boy, then an unsuccessful pilot.

Um...what? "Hey, he did that one where Chris Rock turns into a fat old white guy and dances silly! I'm sure he can handle armies of talking polar bears and witches battling hordes of heavily-armed troops." It'd be like getting Eli Roth to helm "Rainbow Brite: The Movie" Not appropriate...

I'm not really trying to say that it's Weitz's fault that the next two books in the series won't get made, or that American didn't go see Golden Compass en masse. (Though it is his fault that the first movie isn't better). As soon as Americans are told by their churches and media that something is anti-religion, and therefore offensive, they pretty much accept this judgment and even start repeating it themselves in everyday conversation. The message went out from a few prominent sources...The Golden Compass is against God. So Americans stayed home. It's really as simple as that.

That is happens to be true that the His Dark Materials trilogy preach against organized religion is immaterial. I have seen this same phenomenon happen this week with Cloverfield. As soon as newspapers and Fox News began telling the world that Cloverfield mocked 9/11, this verdict was pretty much accepted as holy writ. (A friend told me about a radio call-in show in which a woman who clearly had not seen Cloverfield argued that the only appropriate use of 9/11-style imagery would be to "let everyone know how evil Al-Qaeda is." This is the level of our cultural discourse.)

It was pretty optimistic of New Line to imagine that a few big stars and a nice trailer might make Americans ignore a film series' anti-religion bent. We're talking about a country that's considering electing mad Baptist Mike Huckabee, who wants to actually revert to a Bible-based legal system.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

i was so very excited for an atheistic fantasy epic, and having not read the books, i went into golden compass pretty much blind aside from the atheist thing...and boy did that movie suck. i'm interested in checking the books out though, so hopefully they're better than the movie? i knew the preview was too good to be true, as soon as i saw the weitz name. he's such a bland, vanilla filmmaker, and from what i've read, he even WILLINGLY watered down the religious elements of the film. blugh.