Written and Directed
by Chris Weitz
Running Time: 1:53
for sequences of fantasy violence.
The Golden Compass had the potential to be a great movie, but instead felt cold and empty... almost as if it had no soul.
There are limitless worlds within our universe and each of them are connected by a mysterious substance known only as Dust. Within Lyra's world, the Magisterium doesn't want people to know about the Dust and will do whatever it takes to keep people within their power. Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel has discovered a passage to another world in the northern part of the planet and is determined to venture up there and prove the existence of Dust and maybe even venture into another world. Meanwhile, the Magisterium, bent on keeping future generations under their control, have concocted a scheme to keep children innocent. In this world, people's souls aren't within themselves, but are on the outside in the form of animals. If the Magisterium can cut the ties that bind people to their souls, they can never escape through the Dust. But the children will also never be whole. Lyra has to fight to save her friends, and her world, using the truth found only within the Golden Compass.
The Golden Compass is based on the first book of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, which was a fairly successful book series. I've read all three books and while I didn't feel they were up to the standards of other fantasy series, they were decent enough that I made it through all three. The movie stayed fairly true to the book, as far as I can tell, except, as has widely been reported, the religious elements have been toned done. They haven't been removed entirely, because it's pretty evident what the Magisterium is supposed to represent. But as I've never been one to weigh in on the power of religion, I don't really care one way or another. All I really care about is whether a movie is entertaining. And unfortunately, The Golden Compass wasn't all that good.
I'll start with what I did like... mainly the visuals. I thought all the towns and villages they entered were well done. I thought the scenery looked great. And I thought the special effects were pretty solid. Any movie that has to involve dozens of animal special effects has the potential to look extremely cheesy, but they pulled it off pretty well. And any movie that features a massive fight between two bears also has the potential to look awful, but the bear fight was probably the highlight of the movie. So all things being equal, visually the movie lived up to the image I had when I was reading the book. It was the rest of the movie that fell short.
It's a little ironic that a movie whose focus happens to be on the souls of children, felt like it had lost its own soul. I never felt connected to the characters. They were all superficial with the writer/director only really letting us get to know a bear. He had a backstory that was sad and I understood his need to fight, but the rest of the characters were thrown into the middle of a story that had no beginning. They tried, like the beginning of the
Lord of the Rings Trilogy to have the movie start with some necessary information, but it wasn't enough. It was a 3 minute glossing over and then we entered the movie. Dakota Blue Richards, who plays Lyra, was nice enough and a strong enough actress (thankfully, considering she carries the film) but I never got to know her. I understand that the producers hope to be able to make the last two parts of the trilogy, but I feel like some more time could have been spent allowing us to get to know the people we were supposed to cheer for. We were constantly hit by new information before the old stuff could be understood.
As the movie came to an end I realized that I never once laughed. That felt strange to me, because fantasy movies, while heavy on action and special effects, almost always have some lighthearted moments. I find that having a character crack a joke once in a while allows the audience to relate more. Who doesn't love the funny guy as opposed to the one that broods in the corner? But the movie was always dark and mysterious. It never stood up and laughed to break the ice. Daniel Craig's character was barely shown (although he plays a large role later on) and Nicole Kidman's character was very cold and distant. She was supposed to be the main villain in the film, but there was just enough information given out that the audience isn't quite sure what to make of her, and so you couldn't fully hate her. The rest of the cast was disposable. The film really rested on the shoulders of Dakota Blue, who stepped up to the challenge, but unfortunately wasn't given enough to work with. I left the movie not feeling anything except happiness that it was over. And the song that plays over the start of the end credits was one of the most awful songs I've heard. That certainly didn't help the cause.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was disappointed with The Golden Compass. It had the elements necessary to be the next great fantasy hit, but instead it was extremely flat. I never once had any feelings for any of the characters and beyond some good special effects, the movie felt like it had lost its soul.
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