Now that it's almost November, the prestige movie season is heating up. This year is special for me in that two movies are going to come out based on books that I, at one point or another, have called my Favorite Book of All Time. They'll even be released on the same day, December 7 (a date that will live in infamy?). The books/movies? The Golden Compass and Atonement.
From about the ages of eight to twelve, I was a fantasy-book junkie. But I now realize that much of my fantasy-book addiction was a quest to recapture the rush I felt when I first read The Golden Compass. I read a lot of kiddie-fantasy trash in those days, most of which I have forgotten. But I could never forget The Golden Compass--it, and its sequels, are just extraordinary works of literature.
My aunt gave me The Golden Compass for my ninth birthday, but when my mom saw on the book jacket that the plot involved "horrible experiments performed on children," she decided my dad had better read it first to make sure it wouldn't scare me to death. (The previous Christmas, this same aunt had given me A Wrinkle in Time, which my parents also took away immediately on the pretext it would scare me, until I wised up and checked the book out of the school library instead.) After four or five months, Dad handed it over--I don't know what took him so long, because once I started the book, I could not stop reading. I had always loved to read, but had also always been too dutiful a daughter to turn my lamp back on after lights-out and keep reading when I should have been asleep. The Golden Compass changed all that. I simply had to find out what was going to happen to Lyra and Pantalaimon. I had to immerse myself in that universe that, despite its lack of fairytale/Tolkien trappings like gnomes and swords and medievalesque society, was still so magical and fantastical. I was hooked!
Scared that my parents would catch on to my late-night reading sessions, the next day I would reread the section I had read the previous night, so as not to look like I was finishing the book too fast. (I don't know why I was so worried--that same year, I read all 1100 pages of Gone with the Wind in three days flat. Why have my speed-reading skills deserted me in college?!) Still, I didn't mind. I knew, even then, that The Golden Compass can withstand many rereadings. And now, if I want to feel old, I remind myself that I have loved this book for over half my life, and the Tenth Anniversary Edition came out last year!
Now, finally, a movie is coming out, written and directed by Chris Weitz. The initial screenwriter was Tom Stoppard--you can surely imagine how excited I was about that!--but Weitz ultimately rejected his draft. I have very high hopes for Nicole Kidman's portrayal of Mrs. Coulter--a character I'm rather attached to, villainous as she is, because she's the only Marisa or Marissa I've ever encountered in a great novel. Kidman is good at playing icy glamor-queens, and though the book describes Mrs. Coulter as having a Louise Brooks-type bob, I always found it easier to picture her as a blonde. Daniel Craig also looks like he will be a good Lord Asriel. And I'm not sure we need another child actress named "Dakota," but Miss Richards rather looks the part of Lyra. (At nine years old I dreamed of playing Lyra because I too have dark blonde hair, but I was never a scrawny little savage like her.)
I know that to appease American audiences, a lot of the anti-organized-religion messages in the books will be toned down for the movies. I can definitely see this becoming a problem when they film The Subtle Knife, but those themes are not as explicit in The Golden Compass, so the story should still make sense. I'm more worried at the recent news that the last three chapters of The Golden Compass are going to be part of the next movie, instead.
*SPOILERS* This means that the film will end with Iorek Byrnison's victory, and that just feels wrong. Too triumphant, too happy. One of the things I love most about His Dark Materials is that each book has a progressively more poignant ending: Book 1 is wrenching enough, Book 2 breaks your heart, and Book 3, well... And now the filmmakers will disrupt that wonderful pattern. *END SPOILERS*
Another concern: In all of the 19 production stills available on the IMDB, why does not a single one show a human being with their daemon? After all, the plot requires establishing the fact that in Lyra's world, humans can never travel very far from their daemons!
Part 2 of this post, on Atonement, will be up shortly. In the meantime, have you been more often happy or disappointed when your all-time favorite books are turned into movies? Share in the comments!