Review of “The Golden Compass” (2007) PG-13 113min
December 9th, 2007 by Maxim · 2 Comments · 9,617 Views
A major disappointment.
The script by Chris Weitz (”About a Boy“) is based on first story of Philip Pullman’s 1995 bestselling (in UK) trilogy novel, His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass.
The plot: The story is set in an alternative world where people’s souls manifest themselves as animals (a.k.a. “daemons”), a 12-year old orphan girl Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is at the center of it. A mysterious organization known as Gobblers kidnapped Lyra’s friend Roger (Ben Walker), and she sets out to try to rescue him, but winds up on an epic quest to save not only her world, but ours as well. Her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is a scientist, a scholar at Jordan College, Oxford, England. He believes he discovered a gate into other dimensions and solicits the powerful Magisterium to subsidise an expedition to the Magnetic North to verify his theory. Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott and Ian McShane headline an all-star cast.
The good: the visuals are absolutely beautiful – a lot of eye-candy. Acting was great. Marisa Coulter (did I say Coulter?) played by Nicole Kidman is a villain. Kidman basically played a Snow Queen: gentle and cunning, perfect skin, blue eyes… Daniel Craig didn’t do much but he looked good. 80% of all acting is done by the little girl, Dakota Blue Richards. She had done a terrific job. The only problem I had with her is that she wasn’t too attractive for a protagonist, but that’s ok – all 12-year olds look awkward.
The bad: um, it’s going to be a long list. First of all, the plot is pretty complicated, so since this movie is supposed to be a fantasy movie for kids (as implied by PG-13 rating), I was disappointed to find out that even most adults had difficulties following the story. Second, this movie ends in the most unexpected place and is clearly a setup for a sequel. Third, this movie was called controversial for being anti-religious, but after watching this movie I was disappointed with the way it was done. Here’s why.
At the center of the story is a all-powerful Magisterium. It is ruling the world in that dimension by subjecting everyone to their religious dogmas. Everyone belonging to the Magisterium are wearing 19th century European clothes. The architecture of the Magisterium building is Gothic, with a lot of similarities with St. Peter’s basilica in Vatican – merged with a tall structure that looks a lot like Empire State Building in New York. All of this points to Catholic church. (The rest of the buildings might have been Oxford, England, but I am not sure). Over the centuries the history of the church has been filled with pretty horrible things done in the name of religion, such as witch burning, inquisition, genocide on American continent and more, but they’ve also tried as heretics and burned quite a few scientists on the stake (Giordano Bruno for example; Galileo Galilei was convicted as placed under house arrest for the rest of his life), and in this movie this is exactly what threatens Lyra’s father. The religious leadership in this movie conspires to keep and extend their power, and their plans go as far as brainwashing population – all in the best interest of public. Since Lyra’s father is about to discover inter-dimensional travel (no, it doesn’t involve the flux capacitor), the Magisterium may get hold of this invention to spread their influence in other dimensions as well. So our protagonist and her new friends try to prevent the Magisterium from ever finding out about it. See the problem? Lyra’s friends try to liberate everyone by trying to stop progress and hide the information about an important invention – also for the better good. So they think that replacing tyranny with information blackout is one thing that is going to set them free: replace a theocracy with Soviet-style dictatorship.
Lastly, I am tired of fantasy movies with perfect Anglo-Saxon accent and same visuals over and over. The market is saturated with them like in the previous years when some 3D-animated movies had done well the theatres were flooded with rubbish likes of Madagascar until people began to shriek at the words “3D-animated”.
Lyra’s daemon was “unstable”, shifting from a ferret to a mouse, a fox, a cat, a moth. Only adults have daemons that are permanent (stable). When two characters threaten each other, their daemons lead the fight. The problem in the movie is that too much attention was spent on getting the special effect looking its best, but I actually think that this effect was underused: it could have been such a great tool for showing the true nature of characters – daemons are their souls after all – but then, of course, there would be no need for the Golden Compass (a.k.a. alethiometer)
The last drop of disappointment were the evil soldiers whose daemons were wolves: they were dressed as Cossacks and spoke Russian! Reminded me of Cold-war propaganda saying “USSR is populated with wolves, not people”. Grow up! Two lamest moments in the movie is when the bear said in big voice “What business have you with Iorik Stupidsen?” (or whatever his name was) and when an air rade of witches with bows and arrows flew in to slaughter the cossacks/evil Russians.
This movie has a lot of eye-candy and some nice performances and effects, but the plot is lousy to may be too hard to follow for kids. It will look good in HD – it looked awesome on big screen. I probably will not watch the sequels in the theatre and wait for HD DVD releases. The acting and effects are better then in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but story was much worse then in Harry Potter. The visuals are worthy of LOTR.
p.s. I did not read the book.
p.p.s. In the movie pirates-look-alikes were called Gyptians. Their life-style and especially costumes has a remote resemblance of one of seafaring Gypsies.
** 80th Academy Awards Update (Feb 24, 2008) **
The Golden Compass has won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects (Michael L. Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Wood).
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arctic | based on novel | compass | Daniel Craig | epic | golden compass | Ian McShane | magnetic north | movie review | Nicole Kidman | Oxford | parallel universe | polar bear | quest | Sam Elliot | witch
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