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Movie Review: The Golden Compass

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“I propose to discover a world much like our own in a parallel universe.”

Gobblers, Panserbjørne, intercision, and little personality reflectors called daemons fill the fantasy The Golden Compass. This rapid-fire epic often feels more like a battle among ideologies than a fight between good and evil, which leaves the overall experience empty. Adapted from Philip Pullman’s novels known as the Dark Materials trilogy, this title alone probably causes controversy, especially for young viewers. This first installment (known as Northern Lights in Great Britain) centers on an alternative world full of well-played characters who almost salvage the film.

Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, Casino Royale) has a great, yet incredibly short performance as Lord Asriel who searches for the source of the mysterious element known as Dust. Craig has great presence in his limited expedition sequences as filmmakers give viewers plenty of eye candy backed by a weak, seemingly watered down story. The antagonistic Mrs. Coulter, strongly played by the statuesque Nicole Kidman, also plays an important part in the Magisterium power struggle. Deception, seduction, and greed all play into her motives as she sees Lyra playing a role in her master plan.

Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) plays a key role as she’s given the golden compass (or alethiometer), a key informative element in the story. Other characters include Serafina Pekkala, played by Craig’s Casino Royale co-star Eva Green, Lee Scoresby, played by Sam Elliot, and Iorek Byrnison, an armored polar bear voiced by Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen. Another Lord of the Rings alum (it’s a New Line Cinemas film) Christopher Lee also appears in a very short role as the First High Councilor.

The ending definitely promotes continuation, but will a tepid domestic box office opening quell the remaining installments, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass? A 25.8 million dollar opening is large for any film, but not when compared to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (65.5 million dollar opening) and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (72.6 million dollar opening). Even author Pullman is currently working on a sequel to his Materials trilogy, a risky endeavor when the film series might be in jeopardy.

Filmmakers want to leave audiences wanting more until the future installments are made (they could be waiting a very long time if the writer’s strike continues). The action sequences, including a nifty polar bear battle with clever strategy, are often appealing, but don’t transition well into the story. Good special effects and great acting can’t quite overcome the short, summarized story. Other similar films like Lions For Lambs suffer the same fate here – interesting doesn’t always translate into entertaining. This fast-paced 115 minute film was adapted for the screen with director Chris Weitz’s screenplay. Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie) can handle the material, but the story seems shortened and underdeveloped. Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence.

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  • Ty

    Yes, the big problem with this movie is that it is watered down, but in the movie’s defense, it had to be or else nobody would have released it in the states because some people think the original story is anti-God (it’s not, but it may appear that way).

    As far as Daniel Craig’s character not being in the movie, he is in the end but the director decided to chop off the end and make it the beginning of the next movie (stupid because there may not BE a next movie). The original ending has Asrael and is a downer, while the current ending has hope.

    I actually WAS entertained with the movie, but I see the flaws and have now been inspired to read the His Dark Materials Trilogy because I hear the books are great. I do hope the whole trilogy is made into new movies because I’d like to see it on screen, and hopefully the adaptations of the other books won’t get dumbed-down like the Golden Compass movie.

  • Pierre

    The trilogy is actually called HIS DARK MATERIALS. Get it straight.

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Pierre –

    Take it down a notch. Simple mistake, simple fix.

    You serve no one but your own ego in being nasty.