>> “Golden Compass” Numbers Point South

Golden Compass

New Line’s The Golden Compass opened to $26 million over the weekend, an opening number that indicates that it not only won’t make back its estimated $200 million budget, but that we won’t be seeing the second two books in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Reviews are mixed, so I doubt this will have long Christmas legs, but there are some basic “DUH” things that probably kept this from being a hit.

1. Pullman wrote the book as a sort of “anti-Narnia”, a fantasy filled with philosophical opposition to C.S. Lewis’s classic. New Line decided the best way to sell the film was to make it look as much like Narnia in the trailers–a scrubby little Brit befriends talking animals in a winter wonderland. Their very early marketing, which pandered to the Tolkien crowd, was probably a better idea, but an even better idea would’ve been to sell the film as a trilogy that takes the audience to places they have never seen before.

2. New Line released a movie whose source material questions God and organized religion during the CHRISTMAS SEASON, when even non-believers are feeling extra religious. If, by some miracle, New Line decides to produce The Subtle Knife (the second installment), let’s keep its “let’s invade Heaven and kill God” storyline as far from December 25th as possible.

3. Nicole Kidman is too icy cold a personality to open a film for adults with good box office numbers. Try to sell a “kid’s” movie with her face being the Number One image, and you really have your work cut out for you.

4. Trust your audience. New Line hedged their bets at the last minute, and director Chris Weitz did a final edit to the film that truncated the storyline as it appears in the book. The major complaints against the film are that it is too vague when it shouldn’t be. I haven’t seen the film, but I saw the first minutes of it online, and I winced at the opening narration that sets up the world–a pat answer to the complexities of the story, and one that removes much of main character Lyra’s characterization. In the novel, we, the readers, learn things as Lyra learns things. If the film gives you the Cliff Notes version of her world in the first 2 minutes, what motivation do we have to get sucked into Lyra’s world and her adventure?