“The Golden Compass”

Movie poster: The Golden Compass The Golden Compass

Alicia & I went out with some friends of ours last night and saw The Golden Compass (TGC) during its week early preview showing. Regarding the movie itself, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Sure, I had an inkling of what the story was like — Alicia has studied the book when she was in school, and it has been hard to view any Christian news sources lately without hearing something about the movie.

I felt that the movie itself had a lot to live up to. As a fantasy film, it is up against quite a few heavyweight contenders — notably The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, and even the lighter weight entries of, say, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Stardust, and The Bridge to Terabithia or The Last Mimzi. Frankly, the last decade has been a bonanza of fantasy films and I’m glad to see the genre getting so much attention.

Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua

But I also expected a lot out of TGC simply based on what I have heard of the story. The way Alicia has described the book to me, I expected something epic, something that would give Star Wars: A New Hope a run for its money in the “story” category and The Matrix a run in the “Things that make you go ‘Wow, never thought about it like that!'” category.

After at long last seeing TGC, ((Alicia has been raving about it for quite some time.)) I confess that I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand there was what could have been a very interesting storyline. Unfortunately, it did not translate onto the big screen quite so epically. Indeed, where time should have been spent developing the story & the characters which populate author Phillip Pullman’s imaginative world, there are instead elaborate visual effects — whether the beautiful locations or the CGI of the various daemons, snow bears, or the golden compass ((In the movie, it is instead referred to as an alethiometer, a device for finding out the truth.)) itself.

Seemingly pivotal moments in the movie, such as the revealing of who Marisa Coulter ((Played by Nicole Kidman.)) really is, come and go so quickly that a sneeze may have caused you to not only miss the scene but even the significance thereof. I’m also told that the climax of the book, the part which cliffhangers in preparation of the second book in the trilogy, is completely left out of the movie.

However, having not read the book, I felt the movie ended suitably enough, and it did so within two hours.

My final estimation of the movie is that it is a 6 on a scale of 10. The visuals & music were fantastic, and Dakota Blue Richards does an exceptional job as the film’s protagonist, Lyra Belacqua. ((This was Richards’ first film, and I fully expect to see a great career spring up from it.))

Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter

However, everything good about the movie doesn’t fully redeem that which was simply mediocre. Nicole Kidman, who played film’s primary antagonist, was little more than a bore; I actually found myself losing interest and zoning out during scenes where Kidman was the focus. The characters which I really did enjoy — Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel and Sam Elliot as Lee Scoresby come to mind — turned out to play surprisingly little part in the film. ((Though Craig’s Lord Asriel should have played a huge part in the climax of the film, if it hadn’t had been left out of the movie.))

And as I said above, the story was somewhat of a letdown. I’m not talking about the “Anti God” nature of the film here; rather, it seemed that the plot served only to lead us into the film’s action scenes. I heard the same criticism regarding The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but it was worse with TGC. I am hoping for an extended edition home release to help fill in the gaps.

Should you go see this movie when it is fully released this coming weekend? If you love fantasy movies, absolutely; as with most special effects-driven movies, it’s simply going to look & seem better on the big screen. If you are a fan of the book, I expect that you will watch it — if you didn’t make it to the preview showing yesterday — but I caution that you may be disappointed. To everyone else, this movie may be a rental.

For those who are interested: The movie contained no adult language, little scary imagery, no sex, and is certainly made to be enjoyed by the whole family. There was quite a bit of violence, but little gore — the goriest scene is seen in a very wide angle and if you aren’t paying close enough attention, you’ll not even know what just happened. And that scene involves bears, not people.

Rating: 6 out of 10

4 thoughts on ““The Golden Compass””

  1. This is a book that has been sitting around the house for a while now – we bought it for Jess (our eldest – shes 12) last year and she has not got around to reading it yet and with the Golden Compass about to hit the bit torrent networks (err i mean the cinemas of course) I thought it was time to read it.

    Now I am not a fan of Philip Pulman the person. I am sick to death of seeing him slagging off teachers and schools and I find it particularly rich when I hear him say teachers are boring. He lectured at our college and i saw him in action once and i can assure you than he is as boring an old git as you can imagine.

    however, he would not be the 1st author who is a unpleasent yet still able to put out good books.

    I was also interested because he is often held up (and not just by himself) as an example of a ‘good’ author in the literary sense. however, i have to say that i did not feel that his witting was in any way particularly clever or different to any other of the hundreds of other fantasy authors i have read over the years.

    the book itself is a good read and has some good moments.. i particularly loved the depiction of the parallel Oxford. I was there for 4 years as a student and he has evoked nicely all the other-worldly, ancient, archaic aspects of oxford while ditching all the bad aspects of it (Bill Bryson was right about one thing in ‘Notes from a Small Island’.. the town planners and populace of oxford should be ashamed of what they have allowed to happen to the place over the years)

    the rest is just good old fashioned fantasy yarn aimed at kids.. and you cant go wrong with that now and then. Compared to other fantasy sagas it is very single dimensioned there are no multiple plots which you expect from fantasy books.. if Lyra did not see it then you don’t get to hear of it which can be annoying at times as the author has to engineer some strange plot devices to feed the reader with information.

    still its worth a read and i will be getting a hold of the next 2 books at some point

    as to the religious aspects of the book.. well given that pulman is an out spoken atheist there is little of that which comes across.. yes the church is the bad guy.. but many christians feel that way as well.

    lyra is no more or less amoral than any other child who will do whatever is required to get their own way though she does have a strong sense of what is right or wrong in the bigger picture and willing to do something about it which we hope all our children will have.

  2. Cool review. Really good, well thought out. Andy’s comment is good too. Interesting to hear from a native. It seemed as though the most negative reviews were coming from the UK.
    I saw the film in December.
    I agree with most of what you write, except which characters caught your interest. When Nicole Kidman was on screen, she seemed to be the only thing I watched. I saw a review describing her as the film’s best special effect and I think it’s true. She’s often too beautiful to be believable in her roles, but in this one, she was perfectly cast. She absolutely slithered. I love that the plot was driven by powerful women ( or girls, in the case of Lyra who looked just like Cate Blanchett).
    I was relieved to take kids to a movie that wouldn’t give them nightmares. The Goblet of Fire, Lord Of the Rings, even a lot of the Disney movies, are sometimes too much, and my kids are 11 and up.
    Mostly, since I’m really more about curiosity and tolerance, I appreciate the overall theme of free will, choice, and imagination. The anti-religion touch was pretty light. The books have a heavier dose of it, especially The Amber Spyglass where it becomes almost repetitive and interferes with the story.
    Like Alicia, I was shocked by the ending.

  3. Having seen the film now I have to say that anyone watching the film must be left a little bemused by the whole thing. It is just one action packed moment to the next and it is all non-stop! action action action.. I just wanted the film to slow down and concentrate on the story a little more. and as for the ending!! grr as mentioned above where is the amazing hook that pulls you into the next film?

    I have also read quite abit about how Pulman uses the idea of the demon to represent souls. I am not sure at all how effective this is as apart from a superficial metaphor the relationship between the demon and human clearly is unlike any Christian version of a soul.

  4. Yes, the film certainly had the Hollywood action formula applied to it.

    Maybe the demons weren’t supposed to come solely from Christian mythology. Didn’t the concept begin with the Greeks? Wasn’t each child thought to come into the world with a demon that was like the incarnation of their highest possible self and that life was an effort in growing towards that highest self? I may be misrepresenting the idea a little. In neither film or book was the relationship between people and their demons like that of the Greeks, but perhaps it played a role in the conception of the plot.

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