Saturday, 19 September 2020
The Golden Compass
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Wednesday, 12 December 2007 00:00
Having read Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials a few years back, I was kind of excited to see the first book played out on the big screen. Filled with fantastical creatures and enough controversial subtext to put a political speechwriter to shame, I found The Golden Compass to be an engaging and entertaining book. Key word: “book”. While the movie certainly has visual appeal, the only true north on this Compass is the chilly reception it will likely be getting from audiences.

The story takes place in a world parallel to ours where a humans’ soul lives outside of our bodies. The souls take the form of talking animals called Daemons who must never be separated from their human counterparts. Lyra Belacqua, an adventurous orphan, and her Daemon Pan are constantly getting into mischief at the University where they live. Her curiosity is peaked when a close friend and other orphans start to go missing. But an overheard conversation gets her into more trouble than she may realize and sets her off on a journey in which she becomes the pawn for both sides of a struggle for power.

Nicole Kidman represents one of the powers in question as Marisa Coulter, the icy representative of the governing power. Her beauty is tempered by her rigidity and obvious disdain for anyone who breaks the rules. Daniel Craig plays Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asriel, who challenges the establishment. He shares his nieces longing for adventure but has no patience for the child. Lyra blazes her own path and is destined to change her world forever - but not until the sequel impatient viewers!

On the surface this film appears to have everything going for it. Hot on the heels of blockbuster fantasy films such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Narnia, the story offers the same epic feel and potential to spawn sequels. It also features an all-star cast that consists of more big names than I can list including Ian McKellan, Kathy Bates, Christopher Lee and Sam Elliot just to name a few.

The special effects are fairly well executed, most notably for the CG character of Iorek Byrnison (McKellan). Iorek is a polar bear whose noble race battles one another ferociously. Probably the single best scene in the film involves a fight between two of these enormous bears that is actually quite impressive.

Controversy has followed close on the heels of author Phillip Pullman for his not so hidden subtext about the evils of the Catholic Church (or any established religion for that matter). Unfortunately the grown-up talk has been dumbed-down, creating a film that is too confusing for the kiddies and not engaging enough for the adults.

This book version of The Golden Compass had all the elements to translate well to film, but I think that a short run-time and sloppy editing have hurt it immensely. Instead of nurturing our journey through this strange and wonderful world, the filmmakers have thrown us in without a lifejacket. The result is an oddly cold and impersonal film that fails to involve us in the story. Without having read the books I think I might have been quite lost.

In short The Golden Compass mixes together a lot of the right ingredients but they simply don’t come together in a harmonious way. I give it 5 out of 10 stars.