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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
His Dark Materials: Northern Lights, the original name for the book, in
the UK. What a poignant, mysterious title for a book. The Golden
Compass? Well, it doesn't quite have the same impact, does it? The use
of the American name of the book for the film really didn't bother me
at first, but as early warning signs come, it doesn't get much more
obvious than this; we should have guessed from the off that this was
going to be a very different beast to the book.
As a huge fan of Philip Pullman's epic trilogy, I had been eagerly anticipating this film adaptation for at least a year. I had fallen in love with the books a while back; not due to the fantastical elements, but due to the way it introduced this fantastical parallel universe to the reader in a slow, subtle, familiar way and made it feel real and tangible. The books are gritty, rugged and at times violent, and the stories' themes are philosophical and even spiritual in a way. It grieves me to say that the film misses the point; concentrating instead, on the fantasy, the action and the giant talking polar bears (panserbjorne).
The story is the same: it follows the exploits of a young orphan girl, Lyra, who lives among scholars at Oxford's Jordan College, in a world parallel to our own, in which every human is joined to a physical manifestation of their soul (daemon). One day Lyra hears hushed talk of an extraordinary particle which is rumoured to possess profound properties that could unite whole universes. But there are those who fear the particle and would stop at nothing to destroy it. Children are also being kidnapped left, right and centre, and Lyra's best friend, Roger, is among them. Catapulted into the heart of a desperate struggle, Lyra is forced to seek aid from witches, gyptians, and formidable armoured bears, to help her save her friends from these evil experiments.
But the soul of the story is all but gone. Gone is the mystery; the slow, developing understanding of a person's bond with their daemon; and the gentle, calm introduction to each character and their entwining relationships. Granted, such a complex story was always going to be difficult to adapt, but surely restricting it to such a short-time span (114 minutes) to tell the story just increases that difficulty. By ripping out the very things that made the novel so spell-binding and original, we're left with an ultimately quite hollow, shallow and self-conscious movie, which is more interested in showing off it's (admittedly breathtaking special effects) than telling an interesting story.
The problem isn't that I've read the books. The problem is that this film is very nearly a complete disaster, even as a film unto it's own right; there is no character development, some of the dialogue is awfully contrived and the pacing is all over the shop. Virtually everything from the book is in there, in fact; it's just every scene flies by at a ridiculous pace. The characters are given no time to breathe or grow and concepts such as the daemons, Dust and the magesterium are explained to you via convoluted exposition rather than simply shown to you. The result is a rather detached feeling and thus you never care about any of the characters, which is a crying shame, considering the source from which the stories came.
Oddly, despite nearly being a disaster, the film could have gone the other way - some of it teeters on perfection even. For one, it is visual eye candy, with the design departments each paying extraordinary attention to detail in their creation of Lyra's world and it is not their fault that Weitz's (or New Line's) vision differs so wildly from Pullman's description. Also, the acting itself from almost everyone is very strong, with each actor portraying the characters from the books superbly. Daniel Craig owns both scenes he's in, as Lord Asriel does in the book; Nicole Kidman's magnetic, seductive beauty is perfect for Mrs Coulter; Sam Elliott charms and delights as Lee Scoresby; and Dakota Blue Richards is every bit the lovable rogue of the Lyra of the novel. (Had there not been the need for her to be so pleonastic, the audience might even have actually cared about her).
As far as entertainment goes, the whole film is actually pretty high up the scale; captivating and engrossing the audience throughout, who barely have time to catch a breath. It's a damn good spectacle, that's for sure. It's just an utter shame how great this could have been on many levels, and how as it is it's only a little better than your average family adventure film. Children from about 8-14 WILL love this, but it doesn't have the depth or layers of, say... The Lord of the Rings (the comparison was always inevitable), to not only entertain, but to excite, thrill, shock, scare, move, and even inspire viewers of all ages, like it could have done.
As far as summaries go, you need just watch the film, which is over in an instant and in fact runs very much like a summary of the book. It's worth watching for the entertainment value but you'll probably have forgotten about it by tomorrow.
It sounds like a pretty scathing review, but I still think the quality of the story shines through in the end, and most people will find something to enjoy on some level. It is certainly unlike anything you've ever seen: so very good and yet so very, very unsatisfactory.
Must do better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The opening scene was the very first clue that this film was going to
be the barrage of formula drudgery that it ultimately turned out to be.
Weitz began by unveiling all the information which the reader isn't
even aware of by the end of the first novel in a horrific attempt to
follow the footsteps of The Lord of the Rings with an opening prelude.
Much of the intrigue of Pullman's storytelling is derived from the
careful progression of revealed information, letting the reader know
only as much as it needs to at any moment, and no more. The mystery is
not only lost, it is purposely banished by the blundering slate of
exposition which begins with the prologue and carrys on through the
film's duration. Every bit of exposition has the feel of a technical
bother that must be gotten out of the way so that the action scenes can
make some kind of sense. But the real kicker is the obviousness. The
obviousness ranging from New Line's less than subtle attempt to repeat
a miracle (LOTR), to the individual lines in the film ("Why am I here?
What do they want? What is she going to do with me?"), and everything
in between. Show, don't tell, is the first rule of third grade story
writing, a class these film makers clearly missed.
The film makers (Chris Weitz and everyone above him) have absolutely no respect for their audience. Somehow they expect people to go to a film like TGC for the action sequences and great CG. They expect people can't make inferences and connect the dots unless it is entirely spelled out for them. And the really amazing thing, is that in spite of spilling every possible secret of the narrative before the audience could possibly start to wonder about it, the tangle of facts are hugely more confusing than the novel.
This is a fumble truly.
It was too big of a project for Weitz and there was way too much (it would seem) direction from above the director making this superb story of amazingly real characters in an amazing, whimsical world nothing more than a long string of pretty CG which amounts to a fantastically muddled flop.
I really have to say that the first mistake made was the same one made by Walden Media with the Chronicles on Narnia: making a children's film out of something that wasn't child-material. His Dark Materials are not for children, Narnia wasn't either. They fit into a genre of literature clearly not understood by Newline, Walden, and film studios like them: Novels. Just because the main characters are children people readily assume they are children's stories, but Pullman's work, more so even than Narnia, is written with an intelligent, imaginative, but somewhat cynical audience in mind. Sure their isn't graphic sex and foul swearing, but the themes addressed in his books are not of a pre-teen nature in the least. The main character in the Sixth Sense is a pre-teen, but no one would assume the bulk of the audience would be ten year olds. Somehow in the fantasy realm, studios have seen giant dollar signs over the heads of young children and grasped for material with a previously established audience that appeals to this demographic.
What they forgot about Lord of the Rings is that it was directed by a genius, a genius who cared about both the source material and making as good a film as possible, someone who actually understood the language of film, something that cannot be said for Weitz or anyone above him responsible for this film. Jackson was a dark film maker, his previous films Brain Dead, Heavenly Creatures, and The Frighteners preparing him to deal very appropriately with the material of the Lord of the Rings. Material which, while far denser than Narnia or Compass material, was no more deserving of a serious handling and of caring, talented hands.
The question I have to ask is do the people responsible realize what they have done wrong, and if they do, do they care? My guess is they will begin to care when TGC loses money and perhaps they will begin to understand that audiences don't want a bunch of CG action sequences or pretty costumes. Audiences, for every genre and category, want a good story well told with characters that they care about and mystery they can feel. Maybe the next time they spend 180 million dollars they will ponder this, and maybe then we will see something worthwhile. Until then, we can expect nothing more than a steady stream of Narnia-Compass-Eregon-Etc. drivle from the studio machine.
The Golden Compass in my eyes was the must see film of this Christmas.
I am a huge fan of the His Dark Materials books, and was reading all
three in preparation for the movie to come, I was praying this would be
the new fantasy epic to watch. I suppose I got myself way too hyped for
this movie, even the slightly negative reviews didn't stop me from
being excited, so what a shame to say this cannot help but be a
disappointment for me. I have a few major problems with this mainly,
mainly I suppose because of the changes from the book, in fact had I
have not read the book I most probably would have completely adored the
movie rather than have just liked it. The Golden Compass is not a bad
movie, its definitely better than the first Narnia movie and Harry
Potter movie, but after reading the book I couldn't help but criticise
because I know how amazing this movie could have been. Thankfuly the
entire cast, yes the entire cast, are absolutely perfect, there are two
notable set pieces and the storyline still keeps its grip on the
audience despite being rushed. The lack of the ending from the book
actually didn't even bother me that much, so long as people who have
read the book are aware its going to be in the second movie then I
believe that they won't be that bothered. Overall Golden Compass is an
entertaining two hours, that could benefit from another half hour. Its
a great film to watch for Christmas and will hopefully do well at the
box office so the Subtle Knife is made very soon.
The biggest surprise of the cast definitely comes from Dakota Blue Richards as the lead, Lyra. In the trailers I actually thought that Lyra looked terrible, her voice sounded monotone and the girl showed no expression. Thankfuly in the movie that is far from the truth. Richards pulls off the character of Lyra perfectly, she's cheeky, at times rude but alway likable and definitely well acted. Her cockney accent surprisingly works and never gets too irritating, although at first it takes some adjusting too, and her emotions throughout the film are very well displayed. She carries the entire movie very well and it will be great to see her return in the future films as I know how much dramatic stuff she will have to do. But its Nicole Kidman who practically runs over the hills with this movie. Mrs Coulter was always my favourite character in the movie, and Kidman delivers an icy turn as the villainess. Kidman makes her multi-layered and highly memorable, her best scenes definitely being towards the end. Daniel Craig unfortunately features very little, but he delivers a great performance. Eva Green is superb as Serafine Pekkala but once again features way too little for my liking. The other two superb characters, and my joint second favourite performances, come from Ian Mckellen doing the voice of Iorek, and Sam Eliott who is perfectly cast as Lee Scoresby.
However despite the incredible performances its the cruel way things have been changed or cut that made me incapable of ever giving this higher than a 7/10. I will never understand to this day why the polar bear fight was changed from near the end to the middle, and why the Bolvangar scenes are so unnecessarily rushed its almost cruel. Also changing certain characters and changing certain facts just infuriated me all the more! But the ultimate problem with the movie is the fact it is way too rushed. Occasionally it is a blessing to get a two hour movie rather than a bloated two and a half hour once, but this story requires all the time it can get, and with events just taking up mere seconds and events being cut out (fans of the book will hate The Cocktail Party not being in the film) makes the film feel too short and missing something. Thankfuly the bear fight is as incredible as I hoped for, it ends in very cool way, and the final battle at Bolvangar, while way too short is definitely well done. The movie also packs an emotional punch at times, the intercision scenes are pitch perfect and the ending is amazing in my eyes in terms of emotion. The effects of the daemons are very well done, and the daemons themselves are pretty cool, most namely Mrs Coulter's golden monkey which will terrify kids for a while.
The Golden Compass is hardly the new Lord of the Rings as many, including me admittedly, had hoped for, but thankfully it looks much more promising than the Narnia series and perhaps with a new director, and less editing, this series could really take off. But for now I just need to get over my slight disappointment of it. Still very much worth watching though.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have not read the book so I can't comment on how close the movie follows it. However, as a movie, it is so poorly edited to be barely comprehensible. The whole movie seems like every other scene has been cut out. Characters and situations are not explained, relationships are not developed, and the plot is left with gaping holes. Fans of the book will, no doubt, be able to fill in the details. For the rest of us, I would not bother. This is a shame because the acting is good and well-cast. The special effects are equally impressive. If the movie had lasted another hour, it probably would have been terrific. Hopefully, a director's cut will be released some day that redeems this travesty.
I went into this film fearing the worst. I had become concerned over
the past months as it became increasingly clear that the film was at
great risk of losing direction, the vision if you will, that had drawn
readers to the books series in the first place. That it was doomed. I
feared this strange kind of anti-Narnia, was likely being so diluted
that BO disaster was certain. That may still be the case if the bulk of
early reviews are to be believed (but see Ebert's all-out glowing
review.) Admittedly, the movie probably works better if you have read
the first book (I had), but those readers are precisely the people who
would likely complain the most. I worried and yet . . .
Despite its breathtaking pace, both in terms of action and concept introduction -- we all agree this is not your typical fantasy -- the Golden Compass worked for me. I thought the people involved had done the best they could in making this movie tell the story, making the best possible film despite the conflict and panic that must have gone into it. The sincerity shows. The cast is superb, the action sequences, the effects, the sheer look of the film, are triumphs. I stayed through all the credits, which seemed to last for almost as long as the movie, and good gracious, what a lot of people worked on this! It's expensive all right, but the money is all on the screen. These people should be saluted.
Dakota Blue Richards (it appears if you want your daughter to have a movie career these days, you had best name her Dakota) in a great year for the debut of young actresses, stands out as the best of them. She has poise, indomitable courage, fierce determination and it just keeps coming. The whole movie depends on her and if she had faltered, they truly would have had a disaster on their hands, a "calender" movie with no where to go and nothing to do. Whatever the ultimate financial fate of the film, I think young Miss Richards has a great future ahead of her.
So I am recommending the film highly, though I respect the objections that have been made against it. I think if people just relax and go with it they will find themselves enjoying it immensely. However, if you grit your teeth and go into critic mode, yep, you guess it, you won't enjoy it at all.
As for myself, I would have liked the producers to have gone with the original extended version - everyone knows the last few minutes were cut. Moreover, with a full three hour version just like "Lord of the Rings," I think all the objections would have been met. A director's cut will likely appear some day and I think at that point people will realize how great this movie truly is. Such an enhanced cut would fill in a lot of the details of this world, more fully develop the scenes and characters, and truly give a feeling of being part of the adventure, instead of just watching it. Of course, for the Golden Compass series, by then it may well be too late.
Here's hoping it's not (I dare not say praying). Here's hoping that audiences will respond so this noble beginning of a great philosophical adventure and permit it to continue.
It's all bottom line at this point, folks.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched the film expecting the worst
and I was surprised. The film
opens in cinematic fashion with a voice-over by Eva Green explaining
dust and parallel worlds. I think it was digestible for anyone who is a
non-familiar. Next we move into our own world, the true Oxford of
London. Then in a seamless and beautiful effect, a wave of light
shimmers across the screen, and we enter Lyra's Oxford like something
out of Doctor Who. It's a visually stunning opening that suggests great
things lie ahead. Next we are thrown into a wild children romp like
something out of Lord of the Flies, with Lyra, Roger and pals against
the Gyptian kids. And here enters the star of this movie - Dakota Blue
Richards. From the start to the end she perfectly embodies all the
cheek, all the inquisitiveness, all the curiosity, all the fight, all
the courage and all the heart of Lyra. I think she is the heart of the
movie and the best thing in it. In the Oxford section of the story is
some of the best scenes in the movie. No big action sequences just
intimate moments between the characters. Lyra and Rogers respect for
each other is made abundantly clear. Daniel Craig is on superior form
as he presents his findings at Jordan college. And Mrs Coulters
entrance and icy exchange with the Master, sent chills down my spine.
Kidman delivers the line, "Let me deal with Asriel" with such
unbelievable venom. Nicole Kidman has been burdened by a few flops
recently. I can report the iconic actress is back where she belongs.
She is sinister and stunningly beautiful in equal measure. I thought
the movie was going down a path of perfection right up until Lyra's
escape scene. This is where the story starts moving very quickly. To
illustrate my point; Lyra runs away, gets attacked, is saved by the
Gyptians, asks the Gyptians to take her North and its all aboard the
ship in about the space of 15 minutes. This is all very exciting and
full of adrenaline but as a book fan, i don't understand why they are
in such a hurry. The movie continues to move along at a quick pace
barely giving you time to breath. Its really a good thing and a bad
thing. You could say it's a good thing because as a result it holds
your interest. However non book readers would be easily lost if they
decide on a 2 minute toilet break. I'm a fan of thrillers so I like
frantic and quick paced, however in the case of this movie it would
have been nice if they had just slowed things down now and again,
because like the Oxford scenes proved, intimacy between characters is
Weitz strong suit. I also thought there where scenes missing, like it
was filmed to be longer, but either by Weitz hand or by New Lines, some
scenes where lost. One such scene is Lyra crossing the Ice Bridge.
People who have read the book will know that Lyra crosses the bridge in
pursuit of Lord Asriel and Roger. In the film this bridge now leads to
Bolvanger. But it was evident to me that when they filmed the scene, it
was still leading to Lord Asriel and was intended as a farewell scene
to Iorek. Overall the scene I loved the most was the Bear Fight. Though
I had one complaint. While the animation of Iorek and Ragnar is
astounding, unfortunately a few of the surrounding bears who watch the
fight appear to have been rushed and not given the same time as Iorek
and Ragnar. Though most of the time your attention will be focused on
the fight. All the Oxford scenes are pure perfection, the scene of Lyra
riding Iorek and finding the severed form of Billy Costa is brief but
chillingly effective, the battle at Bolvanger which is suitably brutal
and action packed and the final scene. While I still missed the books
climax, the movies end is still satisfying. On board Scoresby's balloon
we are treated to a heart wrenching scene between Lyra and Roger. Roger
exclaims with all his sincerity that he would travel to the ends of the
world with Lyra, and Lyra says just let them try and stop us. Book
familiars will know why this is heart wrenching, because we all know
Rogers fate. The films conclusion worked because the re-union of Lyra
and Roger was emotionally satisfying, but I think the books climax
would have lifted it to greater strenghts. What I didn't like; it was
too short, Kidman and Craig don't really get enough screen time,
Mckellens voice, rushed at times, evidently missing scenes and the
Magesterium just isn't sinister enough. Its a fantastic fantasy
adventure that will be enjoyed by most. Its just aggravating knowing
that it could have been even better. I also think it is infinitely
better than both Narnia and Potters first cinema outings. How - Well
the Daemons are so much more full of life than the talking creatures of
Narnia. If you have a good eye you will notice that the Daemons are
rarely ever static or simply shot fillers in a scene. They are alive.
The original material of the book is much better realised and
visualised than Potter. But they are not the most important reasons.
For me it is the young lead(s) that makes the difference. The Potter
trio were not great and the Narnia kids were agonising. But Dakota Blue
Richards Is excellent. She is the heart and soul of it.
FINAL VERDICT: A hugely enjoyable, entertaining movie,astounding visual effects, perfect performances and action packed. If it had been 30 minutes longer, book ending kept , more screen time for Kidman and Craig and less meddling from New Line, it would have been a masterpiece!!
I went in cynical about this, especially after the travesty that was
the Narnia film, but i was quickly converted: it's great fun. A really
entertaining and immersive film that intelligently builds a fantastical
world that the uninitiated can marvel and thrill in. I have to say i
haven't read the books so can't comment on a book to film comparison.
On the cast, I don't know how it works in the book but the adults are barely in this. Nicole has the most significant work and Sam Elliott, while a late arrival, is a great presence once he's around. However Daniel Craig and Eva Green are barely in it and Christopher Lee has one blink-and-you'll miss him scene. That said the casting is excellent. Green is suitably witchy and Craig makes an impact in his one/two dialogue scenes early on which, along with a couple of wordless inserts of his storyline, put him enough into your mind to wonder about him. He feels set up for a more significant role in future instalments. Elliott is great. That sonorous voice sneaking out from underneath that bushy moustache feels exactly right for Lee Scorsby.
Kidman is perfect. There's something indelibly creepy about her rigid manner that works for the elegant but sinister Mrs Coulter. Meanwhile Simon McBurney is magnificently slimy and loathsome as the magisterium main face. You know he's a villain from the moment he enters frame.
Dakota Blue Richards is a great find as Lara. While the first two Potter films and Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe were significantly hampered by the incredibly mannered, unrealistic, wooden acting of the young leads (most of the Potter cast got better, time will tell on Narnia) Richards is a winner from the outset. Precocious and feisty without seeming too forced she is generally believable whether is her rebellion or her loyalty. This is just as well as the film is really entirely on her shoulders. It will work or not for people based on whether you like her. She's in virtually every scene and has a lot of different emotions to get across as well as having to have significant interaction with CGI creations like her spirit animal Pan (the ubiquitous Freddie Highmore) and the polar bear played by Ian McKellen. She has a couple of slightly actorly moments but does incredibly well for a first timer under this kind of pressure.
Of the voice-only cast McKellen is a perfect choice for the honourable polar bear while Highmore is either getting less annoying or it's just beneficial not being able to see him, as he is nicely understated as Pan. My only note on this casting would be once or twice I couldn't tell is Lyra or Pan was speaking in their interaction as in quiet moments Highmore and Richards' voices are remarkably similar!
The effects are good but not great. I had worried they'd be as weak as Narnia and they aren't. The world is beautifully created and always feels real, whether Scorsby's flying ship or the blimp thing from the trailer, or stunning Arctic landscapes and big cities. The smaller creatures are also brilliantly rendered, Pan in particular. Some of the bigger creatures are less perfect. The polar bears have a cartoony unreal feel but in a fantasy setting with battle armour and stuff they work well enough. Certainly better than Aslan in Narnia. However the leopard creature with Daniel Craig doesn't look right at all.
As for the film itself it really zips along quickly. The uninitiated (like me) may occasionally lose track of what's going on early on as strange terms and names are thrown back and forth but it soon settles down and makes sense. Rather than frustrating me that I might be missing key elements of what this world was about I felt happy going with it and was left thinking I'll watch it again when it's released just to be sure I didn't miss anything. It's a relief to see a fantasy film that brings it in at almost exactly two hours and has a cracking momentum, as opposed to the seemingly endless drag of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Narnia. Don't get me wrong taking time can work. I really liked Fellowship of the Ring but the pace of the Potters really tests my patience. Golden Compass moves so fast before you know it it's over and it leaves you wanting more. Indeed at the end of this film I could say it had succeeded in doing something the Potter franchise has never done: it left me desperate to see the next one.
However what really made me like this film more than those others is the tone and some of the things they do in it. There are moments in this, that i won't spoil for those like me who didn't know the plot, that really surprised me that they'd do in a family film.
A big fight scene between polar bears and the end battle are suitably exciting and i found myself really invested. I cared about the characters. Whereas in Narnia they hadn't done enough to make you care about Aslan's fate (criminal given how effectively the book and the 80s BBC TV serial managed it) this really has you on the edge of your seat for the good guys.
Overall I really liked Golden Compass and would give it an 8/10 compared to LOTR 10/10, 9/10, 7/10 for the series, Potter 5/10, 6/10, 8/10, 7/10, 7/10 for the series and Narnia 4/10. I will be watching this again when it comes out (something I never did for Potter or Narnia) and am looking forward to the next instalment. I hope Daniel Craig and Eva Green get bigger roles in the next film, but all round a great start to a potential franchise that I had middling hopes for.
An evil empire called the Magestirium attempts total control of the
population by hiding the secrets or parallel universes and a unifying
particle called Dust in Chris Weitz's clunky but entertaining
adaptation of Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass".
"Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings" have never apologized about their overt paganism. Likewise, "The Chronicles of Narnia" have never been accused of being subtle as a Christian allegory. These series, in both literary and film forms, have been monster hits due to their unapologetic natures that speak truths to their ardent fan bases. British writer Philip Pullman's darkly subversive anti-religious fantasy books have also been hugely successful, more so overseas than here in the States. Stripped of the books' overt atheistic messages, "The Golden Compass" takes a reverse psychology approach in its film treatment and oddly positions itself as an apology for Pullman's work. The result is a tepid affair that joins a long line of fantasy films about children discovering they are the chosen ones destined to save the world. At least this film is refreshing in its stance on girl-power as represented in the main character Lyra, played wonderfully by newcomer Dakota Blue Richards, who apparently is a graduate of the Dakota Fanning school of acting. Whether or not this tactic to strip the film of its soul (much like the Magesiterium strips children of their daemons) will make the film broadly appealing enough to warrant a franchise has yet to be determined.
The film comes across as more anti-authoritarianism in general than specifically anti-religion. In the 21st century the line between authoritarian politics and organized religion has become increasingly blurred. Since we currently live in a world where a born-again Christian sits in the White House and wages wars in Muslim nations, it's easy to see why folks from both sides of the aisle, ardent fans of the books and conservative Christians alike, have been worked up into a mindless and silly frenzy over even just a watered-down film version of the first of Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, with one side saying it's not wickedly subversive enough, and the other side saying it's still subversively wicked.
However, viewing the film out of the context of the books upon which it is based and the ridiculous faux-controversy surrounding them, it makes the grade as a big-budget fantasy flick. Yes, there are too many characters to keep track of, and the film has rushed feel to it as if it was edited at the last minute, but it still makes for an interesting trip. Kids will be wowed by the elaborate set designs and CGI effects, which are far superior to the ones in the similarly clunky but still entertaining "Chronicles of Narnia" and culminate in an awesome battle sequence involving armored polar bears--take that Global Warming! Adults will get a kick out the nimble ensemble cast, who all seem to be having a great deal of fun with the self-seriousness of the whole production and are headlined by Nicole Kidman--botoxed, full-lipped and deliciously frosty in a creepy villain role that suits her perfectly.
Possibly the strangest aspect of the film comes as an accidental subtext resulting from its apologetic nature. With its depiction of mystical-minded do-gooders rallying against the totalitarian Magestirium, "The Golden Compass" almost comes across as a period piece anti-Communist allegory rallying for the fall of the Soviet Union. It makes the film feel charmingly dated. There's also the disturbing subtext of child abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church as seen in the Magestirium's cruel experiments with kidnapped children, which makes the film feel charmingly grotesque.
Bottom Line: Any movie that depicts Nicole Kidman walking around with a monkey and preaches the importance of free will, making bonds, sticking together, and fighting for your friends and loved ones can't be all that bad. Despite some of the themes of the books being exorcised and arbitrarily presented by a poorly chosen Chris Weitz (a director known for his comedies "American Pie" and "About a Boy"), "The Golden Compass" still has enough interesting elements and old-fashioned razzle dazzle presented with new age CGI to make it entertaining. At its worst, it presents two hours of dark fantasy-land eye candy. At its best, it encourages adults and children alike to use their free will to do something far better with their two hours, like read.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was so excited to see this movie. I have read all the books and
absolutely love them. I think Pullman is ingenious. The material was
all there for another epic fantasy film, just waiting for a great
director to pick it up...
Unfortunately, no such thing happened. I am a little confused as to why Chris Weitz (director of films like American Pie and Down to Earth) was allowed to director this. He was clearly the wrong choice. The movie, which I did not expect to follow the book exactly due to limited time, appeared to make no effort to tell Pullman's wonderful tale through images. The screenplay was poorly written and seemed to be dumbed down for a six year old, yet the movie's rated PG-13. There was no intrigue. It was choppy and fast paced. There was no sense of story development. Characters and scenes were switched around, and a major part of the book was cut out entirely! This makes absolutely no sense to me (especially since the previews for the movie allude to this part that's cut out being in it). Nope. Instead, the movie stops short with a terribly corny scene and forced dialogue, making no effort to hide the fact that the movie is concluding. When seeing a special premiere of this on Dec. 2, I can recall the entire audience letting out a groan as the movie ended (a few viewer's even booed).
Even if one had not read the books, as two of my friends who saw the movie with me had not, I believe they would still be utterly disappointed. From a film standpoint, it was very poorly done. There was an exorbitant use of CG, making the movie appear artificial. Every time Lyra went to read the alethiometer, there were some special effects implying Lyra's ability to see things in her mind (because of the alethiometer), which is not how it happens in the book (this being one of many examples). I was hoping that for a movie such as this one, there would be an incredible score to help mount emotions, but I was in for another disappointment. The musical score was dry, flat, and did nothing to enhance viewing.
The one thing that I did like about the movie was the choice of Lyra. I thought Dakota Blue Richards did a wonderful job as a newcomer, in a role that demanded several complex emotions. She executed the character perfectly and it's unfortunate that the movie did not match her perfection. Other cast members (Eva Green, Jim Carter, Sam Elliot) did a good job as well, but did not have enough screen time to really be appreciated. As for Kidman and Craig, I was not thrilled with their portrayals of Coulter and Asriel.
In the end, I think people who have read and appreciated the books who go see this movie will be overwhelmingly disappointed, and those who have not read the books will be confused and dissatisfied as well. In comparison to films like Narnia, where the director knew how to take the time to produce a work of art with effective dialogue, scenery, musical score, mix of real and CG characters, and storytelling, the Golden Compass (unfortunately) doesn't even hold a candle.
For some strange reason, a theater in the middle of the cornfield in Indiana had a sneak preview of the Golden Compass, and being a fan of the books I decided to take advantage of it. I wasn't sure what I was getting into, as there seems to be a rather large glut of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings wannabes crowding theaters now and in the near future. This version of the Golden Compass beautifully brings the books to life and was very pleasing to watch with rather nice visuals. The acting is quite good, especially from the young lead, and the animation makes one wonder what they can't do with computers these days. The only true complaint I have about this movie is that it is difficult to understand and follow if one is not familiar with the books. Some scenes at the beginning seems disconnected, but after the halfway point the story comes together. The Golden Compass series is rather dark in its nature, and I'm glad that the movie didn't pull any punches with the supernatural combat (which is awesome, specifically when the witches and bears do battle). Some liberty is taken with the story as expected, and many church references are renamed, but the quality of the story never suffers. I recommend the movie and I look forward to seeing the rest of the trilogy completed.
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