The Golden Compass

goldencompass-posterfinalLast night I watched the 2007 movie The Golden Compass and thought I would share my review of it I wrote for the internet movie database.

The underlying theme of both the Philip Pullman book which inspired this adaptation and the Chris Weitz screenplay itself, have come under fire from religious groups for having an atheist humanist agenda. Keen to understand this argument better I watched with an open mind and, to my delight, discovered within the opening lines of the film that, unlike so many CGI for the sake of it fantasy flicks, The Golden Compass is in fact a highly intelligent take on what is known in physics and cosmology as the anthropic principal.

Simply put, Pullman weaves the story of a gifted child, Lyra, around the mathematical probabilities which arise when, in an infinite universe within and without of our own dimension, a parallel Earth-like world to our own might also contain both that which is familiar and that which is alien to ourselves, alongside a creepy mirror image of our society and how it is shaped by the dogmatic superstitions of darker times in human history.

Given the occasionally controversial and complex nature of this debate, the biggest surprise from a film-making point of view is that there is no attempt to ease the audience over what can occasionally feel like a whole chapter from the original text has been summarised into a single line of dialogue, by simply using a voice-over of the events being described. This would have perhaps also better served the less familiar in the audience with the philosophical dichotomies between deism and theism as set against critical thinking and secularism.

Lyra Belacqua, excellently played by Dakota Blue Richards, is every child who ever looked up at a sky full of stars and found the wonder of it all a far more powerful experience than the simple explanations of a faith school education. To guide her in her quest to free the minds of other children less fortunate than herself, she is helped along by a one of a kind clockwork compass which, rather like the scientific process of deductive logic, gives the reader open to its methodologies, a truthful answer to any question asked of it.

Mrs. Coulter, played by Nicole Kidman, Lyra’s well meaning but ultimately manipulative and greedy nemesis, believes she has discovered a way to protect children from discovering these truths about the universe, as revealed by The Alethiometer, by subjecting her experimental catch of gypsy children to a process which removes from them their inquisitive young minds inherent ability to know right from wrong and seed this authority instead to the entrenched but fading authority of the magisterium.

The Golden Compass cast is a who’s who of acting talent. Sadly, some of the bigger names who overshadow the far superior supporting cast in the credits, give a phoned-in delivery. Nicole Kidman seems to have mistaken whispering to a silence for dynamic range and Sir Ian McKellen’s CGI presence as the talking bear Iorek Byrnison felt disjointed and unfinished.

On the up side, Dakota Blue Richards delivers a brilliantly well rounded character and her on- screen relationship with the rest of the cast is genuine and warm.

All in all, if you like bear fighting, flying robot poison insects and plenty of swashbuckling action adventure, refreshingly free of bad language and tactless sexual references which often feel crow-barred into a script in a vein attempt to attract an older audience to what is essentially a younger person’s film, The Golden Compass is a brilliant bit of fun for all the family, with a teasing ending that more in the franchise is yet to come. I can’t wait!

11 comments on “The Golden Compass

  1. I enjoyed the film, and the books even more. I really don’t think the film did well enough for the sequels to be made, which is too bad, because the 2nd and 3rd books are even better. The first book is really just a setup for them.

  2. Oh, I loved Iorek. I found the whole separation of creature from child to be heartwrenching and cruel. I loved how everything seemed similar to Earth, but wasn’t really… and I’m really intruiged by the Alethiometer — how does it work? I will likely read through this book series this summer.

  3. Fuck me, I was actually suprised for a second that you’d posted about something in everyday life that isn’t about religion, until I saw “come under fire from religious groups for having an atheist humanist agenda”.

  4. I think I should have a week where I try to only post stories you like. The penalty for failure is that I slave for your every command when you come to my house. Treat me like a dog and so on. It is the least I deserve for turning my back on Jesus, after-all.

  5. haha. guys u make me ROFL! not. but its an amazing book, had to read it for english, and jjst realised how good it is! ily guys :) lots of love me who is the beast! RAWL

  6. Dear lord, what a mess the makers and writers made out of this film.

    It started off interesting with hope then very quickly it descended into a mess of re-written scripts TOTALLY different to the book. The scenes themselves looked beautiful but everything else after that was a complete mess. Plots were left unexplained, the reasons for many, many characters existents and actions were not even explained or touched on

    as well as their very actions being completely changed or invented

    totally from thin air! You were left wondering many a time “why is this happening” – “who did that happen?” – “what has this got to do with the story” – what the heck is going on?” and “would someone please explain why ALL of the characters are doing what they are doing? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

    The makers of this film TOTALLY took a meat cleaver to the story. Cut huge and I mean HUGE chunks out, totally twisted scenes around to an unbelievable extent, let characters live that actually die, NEVER explained backgrounds of anything! Leaving out the fact that they rewrote the whole book and made a complete shambles of it, just as a non-reader, many have commented to me in the cinema, on the way out and afterward to this present day (June 2008) the equivalent of “you could tell they pulled the good guts out of it”.

    Dear god, if your going to make a film from a book, stick with the book or make up one of your own completely. Don’t waste our time and your own by buying the rights to a book and then ripping it to shreds and sticking it back together again in an unintelligible mess. What is the point of buying the rights to a book in the first place if your going to totally re-write it (and screw it up in the process too to boot)?

    I understand that the makers were spineless and cowered to the religious nuts by removing anything that made any intelligence to those with brains. The effect of this cowardice left behind a film that was a total waste of time, an insult to the original writer of the book and a waste of talent that should have been used better in a greater film than this mixed, unexplained unmitigated disaster.

    If there is going to be sequels and going by this film, I hope to all heavens there is NOT – can we the audience have a change of makers, scriptwriters and a producer, a director with a brain and at least someone with guts to stand up against the zealous religious right.

    To sum up: what a complete mess and waste of talent.

    This film could have been so, so so much better.

    Rating: one out of ten.

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