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Whenever a book is made into a movie, it is inevitable that comparisons will arise about whether the film does justice to its original form. Sometimes, I feel that holding such an obtuse point of view about how a book can be interpreted might be harmful to a person’s viewing experience – instead of sitting back and enjoying the movie based on its own merits, a close-minded viewer may end up trivially comparing every detail and religiously noting every discrepancy.
However - books, unlike movies, provoke images in one reader’s head that are never the same for anyone else. This creates a unique sense of personal ownership to a novel.
As I walked into The Golden Compass on Thursday night, I was accepting that no matter how great the movie would be, it could never measure up to the book. I worship everything about Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, and I assumed that by lowering my expectations, the movie would be more enjoyable.
I fully expected the last three chapters of the book to be left out, giving the film a happy Hollywood ending
instead of the devastating revelation of Lord Asriel’s motives. The New York Times had thankfully informed me of this unfair amputation in the Sunday newspaper last week, so it was no shock.
However, as the credits started to roll across the screen, I heard literally half the theater go, “What the fuck?”
Most of the Compass-lovers are outraged that Weitz had left out the last three chapters, considered the pivotal section of the novel. The events herein act as an impetus for the protagonist to embark on her quest.
However, I sympathize with Weitz’s decision. Production and cost issues aside, it would have been extremely pointless for viewers who did not read the book to see the original ending.
One of the skillful qualities of the novels was Pullman’s ability to weave the obscene caricatures of the Church alongside a respect for religion. Religion it is an important component of the world that Lyra (the protagonist) lives in, and is what makes the Magisterium (the power-hungry authority) seem like a monstrosity.
It was a mistake on Weitz’s part to leave out the religious undertones. Without that aspect of the story, Lyra’s quest lacks a greater meaning; she simply just wants “to learn about Dust,” like it is a new scientific discovery.
The last three chapters give the reader a preview for what is to come in the rest of trilogy: what the Church is willing to do to hinder the coming of the second Fall, the lengths to which Lord Asriel would go to in order to prove his autonomy, the internal ideological struggle within Mrs. Coulter, and the significance of the importance of Dust to everyone, and most specifically to Lyra. None of this would make sense if there wasn’t a spiritual authority prevalent in the characters’ lives. These events need a driving force, and Weitz has edited that out of his vision.
If the last three chapters, sans religion, ended up in the film, viewers who had never read the book would not understand their significance - they are lacking in any larger significance. Weitz ruined the core of his film by eliminating the religious components. I expected as much going in, but it doesn’t make me any less disappointed by what it could have been.