Ken's Review: The Golden Compass - Pretty, But I Still Got Lost
by Ken Evans
December 7, 2007
It is a strange feeling walking into a fantasy film like this and not knowing what to expect. I have read all of the Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings books so I had some idea what to expect in those films. Somehow His Dark Materials had gotten by me because I had never heard of them before. It sounded like a cool concept and then when I saw the trailer I was hooked. I thought maybe The Golden Compass would be the next Lord of the Rings or at least the next Narnia. After seeing it and letting my thoughts settle over the last few days I have to say I did enjoy it and want more but, this is most definitely not the next Lord of the Rings or Narnia.
The Golden Compass is about a young girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) and her daemon Pantalaimon. In Lyra's world everyone has a daemon, which is their soul embodied in animal form. Lyra lives in a scholar's school and one day overhears a meeting between the heads of the school talking about something called dust. Lyra mentions this to Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) who warns her never to mention it to anyone. Soon after Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) shows up at insists that Lyra comes with her on her trip to the north. Lyra comes to learn that Mrs. Coulter is involved with an organization called the Gobblers, who kidnap kids for their evil agenda. Aided by a golden compass, which was given to her by Lord Asriel, she sets off on her own to rescue the kidnapped kids, one of which is her friend Roger. Along the way she finds people to aid her like the witch queen Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green), Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot) and the snow bear warrior Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen).
To be honest that isn't the best plot synopsis of The Golden Compass, but it hits the main points without giving away much story for those that haven't read the book. The problem is I didn't quite understand everything. They didn't do a very good job of introducing this tale to people, like myself, who weren't already familiar with it. From what I could gather dust is extremely important but not in this film. I'm certain that it will be the focal point of the next two films, but it left me scratching my head during this one. Because I didn't understand dust it also made me confused about why Mrs. Coulter and the Magisterium are trying so desperately to stop Lyra. Dust also has something to do with the relationship between a human and their daemon that I didn't fully understand. They relied so heavily on the next two films that I felt this one suffered.
Despite and because of the lack of explanation I was left wanting more, mostly to fill in the gaps and unanswered subplots. Unlike Fellowship of the Ring, where when it ends you know that the next two films will deal with Sam and Frodo taking the ring to Mordor, The Golden Compass ends without giving you any idea of what the next two will be about. I felt like I was watching a TV show like Lost or Heroes, where the only thing I'm hoping for in the next episode is that some questions from the previous episode might be answered. This isn't necessarily the wanting more feeling I love and wanted to walk away with. I'm looking forward to the next films but I don't know what I'm looking forward too.
However, there were few characters that I can't wait to see developed which are reason enough to watch the next two films. Sam Elliot's character didn't do much of anything but he is the essence of cool. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for any role that Sam takes on, I can't imagine anyone playing a better Texan aeronaut cowboy than him. Likewise, Daniel Craig doesn't do much either, but he has one great scene where he and his snow leopard daemon battle some snow raiders. I can't wait to see him again and wish there would have been more scenes with him in it.
Then there is Iorek Byrnison, the snow bear, with the voice of Ian Mckellen. I'm sure if you ask most people they would say that Iorek is their favorite character and the battle between him and the snow bear King Ragnar Sturlusson is their favorite scene. Iorek and that scene were definitely my favorite parts. There is something quite unexpected that happens at the end of that fight which must partly be the reason for the PG-13 rating.
Despite the lack of explanation and lack of screen time for a few characters, I still enjoyed the film. The CG world they created looked great; although I wish they wouldn't have used as much CG as they did. The acting was top notch, especially from Dakota Blue Richards who was perfect as Lyra. This is definitely one to see while it is on the big screen, but don't expect it too be as epic as Narnia or Lord of the Rings.