Sunday, December 16, 2007

Complex plot may be hurting Golden Compass at box office

Complex plot may be hurting Golden Compass at box office

Strong storytelling boosted the fortune of Narnia flick


Michael Wallace


The Ottawa Citizen


Saturday, December 15, 2007


So much for being a blockbuster.


After all the hype, The Golden Compass disappointed at the box-office, earning only $26.1-million in its opening weekend. That was well off the $65.6-million mark set by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005.


Why The Golden Compass did not attract anywhere close to the same audiences as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the subject of debate. Some critics pointed to the boycott by various religious groups of the movie, but there is one, less sinister, explanation. The Narnia series is simply a better story.


That would come as a shock to Philip Pullman, the author of The Golden Compass.


Pullman has made no secret of his disdain for the Chronicles of Narnia and its blatant pro-Christian themes. In one essay titled The dark side of Narnia, he wrote, "there is no doubt in my mind that (the Narnia series) is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I've ever read."


But in the same piece, Pullman admitted Lewis could tell a story, albeit in a superficial and bustling way.


It is Lewis's storytelling ability that University of Ottawa professor Domenic Manganiello points to as the reason for the success of the Narnia books.


"He doesn't overwhelm you with fireworks," says Manganiello. Instead, he says the strength of Lewis's story rests on his ability to create memorable scenes. Lucy travelling through the wardrobe, says Manganiello, is one of those powerful moments.


"He captures that whole sense of a child's discovery in one small but significant scene."


Manganiello also says when it came to plot, Lewis knew to keep it simple.


"Kids want to have a clear frame of reference on good and evil," he says. "They want to know who the good guys are and who are the bad guys."


Carleton University professor Robert Lovejoy, who specializes in children's literature, says the strength of the Narnia novels rests on the didactic nature of the conflict.


"The Lion movie was pretty much good versus evil -- a witch versus a lion."


Lovejoy says that kind of story is much easier for children to comprehend than the more complex story told in The Golden Compass, especially when it comes to complex characters like Mrs. Coulter.


"The evil witch in the Compass is frightening in a deeper and more disturbing way," says Lovejoy. "She wants to stop all free thought and speculation and is an egomaniac of the most dangerous sort."


Both the Chronicles of Narnia and Pullman's His Dark Materials series are great examples of literature. But, for Lovejoy, the comparisons between the two are sometimes unfair.


"The Golden Compass is not a children's book," he says. "It is a book for older kids and adults."


But that won't stop the comparisons from continuing as long as both series continue to spawn movies.


Prince Caspian, the next movie in the Narnia series, is scheduled to debut next year. No announcement has been made on making The Subtle Knife, the second book in Pullman's His Dark Materials series into a movie.


© The Ottawa Citizen 2007



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