First, they really had no idea just how bad / offensive / condescending this would look, did they? I mean, seriously. It's one thing to screw up all the big things so badly, but to be so tone-deaf for even these little symbolic gestures - that's like some kind of record-breaking political autism or something.
Just watched Children of Men, and I have to say I am really, really impressed. I'm so used to being disenchanted and simply aghast at how mediocre-to-bad the majority of mainstream films are these days that I barely even make the effort to keep up. But this one had a few things going for it: Alfonso Cuarón is a filmmaker of no small pedigree (despite the whole Harry Potter thing, but I can't begrudge anyone a paycheck, especially if it enabled him to make a movie like this); the film received almost universal rave reviews (admittedly no guarantee); I had read the book when it first came out and liked it considerably.
I have to say that the film is definitely the best contemporary production I've seen in quite some time. I didn't remember the book very well (I read it soon after it came out, over a decade ago), but the movie seemed to actually correct some of the book's tonal inconsistencies. The book was focused very keenly on the nature of order in a crumbling society - the way governmental bodies would impose dictatorial powers in order to maintain quiet in a fading society. The movie, wisely, chose to de-emphasize these kind of political shenanigans. The dissolution of societal control is not likely to come with clean precision, more like the absolute chaos and anarchy we see in failed states all over the globe. The thrust of the movie is not that order is maintained in the face of oblivion, but almost the diametric opposite: things fall apart and they fall apart quickly. I don't know if I've ever seen a dystopian movie that was quite so unrelentingly grim in its illustration of the "end of the world" - I am fond of Michael Radford's adaptation of 1984, but I think when all is said and done this a much more unsettling vision.
I think the film definitely profits from a much more aggressive focus on the brutality and unrelenting despair of its end-of-the-world scenario. The violence, once it begins, never really ends. There's nothing glamorous or sexy about the gunfire and explosions, the cinematography and set design of the dying cities seems almost viscerally contemporary, very much of a piece with the video footage we see broadcast into out homes from downtown Baghdad, Lebanon and Kabul. Without giving anything away, just about everyone dies. There's previous little hope on display, and yet at the same time the filmmakers are clever to avoid the trap of making a fetish out of their hopelessness. There isn't a lot of hope, but there is a vestigial urge for survival that continues irrationally.
As grim as the film was - and it is by far the grimmest film I've seen in many a moon - there is one interesting change they made in adapting the book into a movie. In the book, Clive Owen's character accidentally kills his daughter with his car - backing out of the driveway he hears a dull thump - and this explains his estrangement from his wife (in his movie played by Julianne Moore, compacted down from two distinct characters in the book). In the movie this is changed to their child dying during a flu outbreak. Considering just how unrelentingly bleak the film is - and let's be frank here, it essentially illustrates the final days of humanity, past the point of hope and into utter senseless society-wide suicide - it's an odd detail to change.
In any event, I can definitely understand just why the film was buried upon release. I'm amazed it got made to begin with. But I think that given enough time and hindsight it will be seen as one of the finer films to emerge from this benighted, depressingly mediocre era of filmmaking.
Speaking of "depressingly mediocre", has anyone seen The Fountain? Without a doubt one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and certainly in the top tier of bad movies made by otherwise talented filmmakers. I mean, anyone who's seen the movie - you can't tell me you weren't just laughing uncontrollably for the last, oh, twenty minutes, at least. I mean, seriously. About the time when Hugh Jackman 2500 got into the lotus position and flew into the Giant Exploding Space Vagina, and then also went back in time 1000 years to help his conquistador ancestor fight the evil Mayan priest with the power of his Third Eye... well, seriously, people. I'm not made of stone.