Well, the short answer would have to be that, opening all alone in December and only pulling in $26 million in the U.S. with a budget of $180 million means your movie was indeed a failure. There's a silver lining behind that truly dismal number, but I'll get to more of that later.
Why did "The Golden Compass" fail to connect with American viewers? Having watched it myself and only mildly enjoyed it, I have my own theory why, and it only tangentially has to do with any kind of church protests.
And I did find out from talking to the manager of my multiplex that, in Macon at least, these protests were real and went beyond the attention-mad ramblings of Catholic League president William Donohue. But even so, since this apparently was mainly kept to handing out leaflets to churchgoers, it was pretty much preaching to the already-converted who most likely weren't going to go see the flick anyway.
Instead, watching the flick, I got the sinking feeling that the filmmakers, Chris Weitz principal among them, were done in by the simple fear of these protests and what it drove them to do to their movie even before it was released. If you've read any of Phillip Pullman's books, and I did read "The Golden Compass"/"Northern Lights" in preparation for seeing this flick, you know it's a wildly entertaining book full of important ideas about the diminished role - and eventual death - of organized religion.
Even if it's not an idea I necessarily agree with, I appreciated the passion which Pullman put into constructing the complex tale and layering it with his philosophy. And it's Pullman's ideological approach that's missing from the movie and, for me at least, made it a noble failure.
While keeping much of Pullman's tale intact (except for, notably, the final three chapters), the evil force known as the Magisterium was vagued up to the point that it was simply turned into some kind of Big Brother interested in taking away from kids any notion of free will. As menacing as that is, it dumbed down the message of the book enough that you're gonna offend some of your true believers while not winning over any of those who were predisposed to oppose the movie, so where's the winner in that?
Aesthetically, I also have to say the movie just dragged more than a bit from the point that our heroine (the simply superb Dakota Blue Richards) left the college until she ran into the aeronaut Lee Scoresby (played by Sam Elliott, who proves he can bring life to any move he's in.) I know there was a lot of exposition to get through, but it was just awfully talky for a fantasy/adventure movie.
But, of course, it's not all bad. As I said, young Ms. Richards is just perfectly defiant as Lyra, and the opening "battle" among she and her friends just sets the tone perfectly before things fall apart. And the ice bears, voiced by the two Ians (McKellen and McShane), were just friggin cool.
And, if you look at the big box office picture, maybe "The Golden Compass" wasn't such a big failure after all. On about 5,000 screens in 25 overseas markets, the movie took in $55 million, more than double its domestic pull. And it in fact managed to make more in these markets than the four movies that followed it - "Enchanted," "Bee Movie," "Beowulf" and "Hitman" - combined.
I have more than a little suspicion, however, that that won't be enough to convince New Line to greenlight the second installment in what was to be a planned trilogy. A quick visit to the IMDB reveals that, indeed, there is no director selected yet for "The Subtle Knife," though there is a screenplay by Hossein Amini.
I have the sneaking feeling that Bob Shaye and the other folks at New Line, having already pretty much neutered the first installment, now don't have the huevos to go through with a series in which our heroine, if I'm not mistaken, does indeed kill God (now, I haven't read the next two books in the series, so please do inform me if I've somehow got this wrong.) If they indeed back away now, this would have to go down as one of the great movie debacles of all time. Stay tuned ...
Will you laugh hard at "Walk Hard"?
I really want this movie to be good. There hasn't been a quality spoof in a long time, and in the hands of Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan this would seem to be our best bet in many years. It's also the first time in the main spotlight for the very deserving John C. Reilly, and the musician biopics it takes aim at are equally deserving targets. I can't shake the suspicion, though, that it's gonna be uneven at best, but hopefully still very funny in stretches. Now, with the first 10 minutes at least, you can decide for yourself thanks to the glory of YouTube. Feel free to let me know what you think, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.