"The Golden Compass" might be one of the only films ever to offer a sneak peek of its sequel in its trailer — although that certainly wasn't the intention when it was made. What was supposed to be the end of the first installment of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy has become the beginning of the second, as filmmakers have lopped off scenes in "Compass" to provide more of a cliffhanger. The film series, already no stranger to controversy thanks to its handling of some religious themes, was subjected to a second round of uproar when fans first heard of the switch.
"What?!" 16-year-old "His Dark Materials" fan Zoe Maltby said when she heard of the last-minute changes to the December 7 flick. "What are they showing instead at the end?"
Those who've read the Philip Pullman books already know much of this, but for those who haven't, a warning — spoilers are ahead. The last three chapters of the book involve Lyra (played in the film by Dakota Blue Richards), who seeks out her father, Lord Asriel (played by Daniel Craig) in the Arctic North as he's about to conduct an experiment: to split a doorway between worlds in the Aurora Borealis. All along, Lyra had been trying to save her friend Roger, who had been kidnapped by her mother, Mrs. Coulter (played by Nicole Kidman), only to realize she's just paved the way for his death — because Lord Asriel has been looking for a child whose soul he can sever and to use that energy to open up the door between worlds.
"I love Roger, but I want him to die," Maltby said. "I know that sounds morbid, but it needs closure. I didn't mind it when they changed around the beginnings and endings with 'Lord of the Rings,' so maybe this will be OK, but this finale is much more emotional."
"It's not a cop-out ending or a happily ever after," 16-year-old Morgan Levinson said.
"There won't be closure," 15-year-old Jacob Goldberg said. "You have to feel the sadness of Roger's death."
Director Chris Weitz said the "tweak" was made to cut the ending so they could end "Compass" "in just the right kind of mood." "The good guys win," he told MTV News. "Just kidding. It's more, 'What kind of exit line do we want for our heroine?' We just wanted to find the right place to enter the second movie, and as we became more confident about the likelihood that there will be a second and a third movie going, we decided we wanted to end the first one in a way that led right into the second one. And probably only we would think it'd be any different."
(For more on why Weitz made the change, read his answers to your questions on the MTV Movies Blog.)
To make the changed ending work, the filmmakers made a few other tweaks along the way, including shooting some added scenes that helped further the story along. Actor Sam Elliott, who plays Lee Scoresby in the film, said the new scenes are "about clarification." "These are really difficult books, I think, to adapt to the screen," he said. "I've done enough of these things that were adapted from really good literature that don't always work verbatim, so I can appreciate the thought of this as a cliffhanger."
"If the movie were to end where the book ends, people would be confused," HisDarkMaterials.org webmaster Ryan den Rooijen agreed.
The filmmakers also swapped out some voice actors, such as adding Kathy Bates for Scoresby's dæmon Hester, and Ian McKellan as Iorek Byrnison, the armored polar bear who accompanies Lyra on her journey. "We thought Ian McKellan would add more to the role," producer Bob Shea said. "It elevated this visual-effects character into something powerful and exciting and dramatic and passionate."
"Fortunately we had a long enough production schedule so we could take a look at what we had and see how we can improve it," Weitz said.
"As with all big films, there's always a lot of tuning up to do," Shea said. "And typically, as we did with 'Golden Compass,' we budgeted for the possibility, the certainty even, that we'd make changes and reconceive certain things, to make it as good as it can possibly be. There have been changes all along, because sometimes things didn't work out the way the director or the studio thought it could work out, so we make adjustments."
Of course, even the fans who were shocked at the change are happy knowing the scenes were at least shot, and they'll get to see them, even if it is only eventually.
"It's open-ended, and that can work for setting up 'The Subtle
Knife,' " said 15-year-old Joseph Pomp of the proposed sequel. "I just hope they actually do 'Subtle Knife.' "
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