The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Chris Weitz
viewed: 03/05/10

I’d long planned to see The Golden Compass but I think that at the time it came out, I guess I figured it would be a bit much for the kids (they would have been 3 and 5, respectively).  And then it stayed in my queue for a while.  I bought the book, since I heard it was good, but we never got around to reading it.  And then, just recently, they picked up the audiobook of the novel (they listen to a lot of them as they get trotted around the city) and then they got around to seeing the film without me.

Well, no time like the present.

Unfamiliar with the books (outside of general knowledge of them), the story was fresh to me, but I could tell that it was compromised significantly by being compressed into a film of reasonable length (nearly 2 hours).  There was a lot going on, a lot of characters, a lot of narrative and ideas, so much so, the film sort of leaps along like a too-fast ride at an amusement park.  A sort of scary and thought-provoking ride, but nonetheless.

The story is far too complicated to explain here, but it takes place in an alternate universe where people’s souls are embodied in animal form, always with them like best friends, and are referred to as “demons”.  For some reason, this organization, called the Magisterium (and which in the books is more clearly meant to be the Catholic church in this alt-reality), wants to sever children from their demons/souls.  And they hate science and alternate explanations to the world from what their teachings say.

I’m guessing that the book is a far-better way to go with this one, because there are lots of ideas at work and there is hardly any time to think them through.  And in the end, there is a battle akin to something from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) or some J.R.R. Tolkien thingamabob, with witches and polar bears and pirates fighting guys who look like the Russian version of the S.S.  It’s a bit of a cultural, historical mash-up of period and setting, so much so, at least in an alternate reality you don’t have to try to figure it all out.

The movie’s star is Dakota Blue Richards, who is quite good and really a remarkably striking young girl.  Nicole Kidman is the ice queen villainess, and she’s icy alright.  Daniel Craig is Lord Asriel, the good guy, but neither of them appear a whole lot throughout the film.  The film is directed by Chris Weitz and even adapted by him.  Weitz was one of the brothers behind American Pie (1999) and then went on to direct About a Boy (2002) and I have to say from those two films really hasn’t cemented himself as a director of quality.  I’ve read that the studio took the film and re-edited it, so perhaps it’s not all his fault, but the movie, while not bad, squanders much richer material than Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) or potentially even the Harry Potter franchise.  Who knows?

Well, a sequel has not been forthcoming, so maybe we’ll never know from a film perspective.  However, I did buy the book that is the sequel The Subtle Knife, and we’ll see how that goes.

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