Ken's Review: The Golden Compass - Pretty, But I Still Got Lost

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).

Lyra Belacqua, played by the charming Dakota Blue Richards, looks at the golden compass given to her by Lord Asriel.The Golden Compass Review

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.

Daniel Craig, who plays Lord Asriel, was one of the characters that didn't end up having too much screen time in The Golden Compass.The Golden Compass Review

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.

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The book ends in a similar way as you describe. There are no real clues as to what is going to happen. And the next book starts off in a completely different story line with characters that weren't in the first book. So I guess in that aspect, they stayed pretty true to the book. I've read the books many times and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie tonight.

fallenposters on Dec 7, 2007


The book ends completely different from the movie.

Sam on Dec 7, 2007


The first book was actually the most difficult to read than the other two anyway because they don't explain much of anything and you have to muddle through it to try and understand much of anything. Since the reviewer was confused about dust, trust me when I say that those that read the book are too. They explain things WAY more in the following books. I look forward to seeing the movie, though. I hope that the confusing parts don't deter people from reading the books or watching the sequels.

Mama Gaea on Dec 7, 2007


I agree with some of the comments above about how the first book remains ambiguous about the nature or logic behind Dust. I have yet to see the film, but if this is true of it then in that sense the film-makers were being faithful to the literary adaptation. As for the ending of the film being different from the first novel, the makers of the film announced that the last three chapters of the first book be moved over to create a better opening for the next film. As I said I still have not seen the picture so I am weary of what the ending will play like. As for the book, the ending is abrupt and a lot remains unexplained. The central story really takes place in the third and final book. But once those final pages come to a close, readers will be glad to have stuck around. Having finished the last book, I disagree with the writer in his conviction of these books not matching up to LOTR or Narnia. I think they are much wiser and complicated. All good things for those who wait.

Leo on Dec 7, 2007


i agree with most comments above. there is a lot your NOT supposed to know because the book didnt even tell you. its called stringing the reader/viewer along. and the 2nd book starts out in a whole different.....way. i dont know how else to say it without spoiling too much. the plot/story is very epic, trust us. if you want more just read the books!

sarah on Dec 7, 2007


I saw this during the sneak peak about a week ago and left the theater completely...underwhelmed. Sort of disappointed as well. I had really high hopes for this movie and I really (going to give it another shot soon) want to like this movie, but it fell flat. The production design and CGI were gorgeous, but it just felt too rushed, like they were trying to cram as much of the book in as possible in the short run time. Not only that, but at times the movie dragged (polar bear riding scenes anyone?) through bits of it. I was confused for the most part, but from reading your comments, it seems like I'm supposed to be confused? I don't know. I am willing to give this movie another chance when I see it.

Sam on Dec 7, 2007


I read the first book and just saw the movie last night. It certainly did not live up to the book's potential, and much that liked about the novel did not get adapted properly to the film. The biggest issue I had was the pace-- too fast. We hardly get to take a breath at any one location and then Lyra is off to the next one. It allowed no time to savor this world or feel about the characters. The CG was nothing special either. I may pass on the rest of the trilogy, assuming they even get a green light to go forward. Looks like it will be lackluster weekend BO.

Dan on Dec 8, 2007


I have not read the books but I found this to be one of the most poorly crafted movies I've ever seen. It was like the Viewmaster version of a film... Just snippets of scenes linked by poorly written exposition. Not once was I given a chance to think for myself. Characters explaining the obvious to each other so we, the audience, would understand something (that often had no bearing on the story being presented anyway). I despise poor exposition - and the exposition in this was crap-tastic. The editing - too tight. Lines on top of lines cutting out all dramatic pauses or moments of thoughtful insight. Cut after cut after cut after cut. Didn't this director learn anything from watching Kubrick? My guess is that the director who brought us American Pie hasn't seen much of the classics. And it shows. What was New Line thinking when they hired this guy? I read N.L. cut the actual ending because it tested poorly - perhaps those test audiences were thinking what I was thinking - "End Already!". Note that this film is doing poorly at our theatre and most all my staff thinks it's bollocks.

Depressed on Dec 9, 2007


I understand completely by the comment above me - although I walked into the theater expecting something less than the books, I didn't expect a film as badly as the one I saw. I was immediately disappointed when I heard the narration, because it seemed to me that the movie was overly explaining some things that didn't need to be explained. I think that part of it is that, in the books, you've actually got to do a lot of thinking to yourself. The nature of Dust is mostly hinted at, until the end of the series, but you've still given more clues as to what it is by the interactions of humans with their daemons. A big part of it is that Lyra slowly discovers these things for herself. In the books, much as in the movies, most of Lyra's discoveries come through her usage of the Golden Compass, as well as her overhearing the conversations of adults. This is sort of the same in the movie, except that the adults seem to be explaining it as if they knew that Lyra was overhearing, and they wanted to make sure that she understood everything. I think the biggest flaw of this movie is an underestimation of its audience. I read this book when I was very young, and I was still able to make some of these mental jumps. The screenwriter and/or directors really took something that is important of fantasy out of the movie: a sense of a completely different world, where you've got more questions than answers.

Ivy on Dec 17, 2007


hi world... bublu: it was better than eragon i must say. eragon was a horrible movie, AND messed everything up. goldencompass messed everything up in an entertaining way. bwyn: the movie was disgracefull. it migt be to the classification of horrible, but i wouldnt go that far. given, it was a good movie, but i need to know what book they got THOSE DETAILS from. i barely recognise the plot! they messed the order up horribly, and i cant begin to say what many things they skipped over. im kinda regretting going to see the movie. THEY DIDNT EVEN FINISH THE BOOK! keep it up, and they will have to have about 6 movies on their hands for just a trilogy! i have said what needed to be said by someone who knew what to expect. if another movie comes out with a happening like the movies ERAGON and THE GOLDEN COMPASS, i will not be able to take it. bublu: wow... all righty then. i think all the little good things about it were: 1. lyra made a good lyra 2. Billy's cute... 🙂 jk, or am i... 3. she SLAPPED that horrid monkey 4. the compass was more than expected 5. iorek calls lyra "child" the whole movie 6. lee's hare's big ears 7. daemons made impressive form changes 8. the witches defend the children 9. ma costa sure knows how to handle a couple of pistols 10. someone spiked the drink! everybody out!... 11. that doggy in the picture was as happy as could be 12. no amputated frozen heads 13. lee shoots down warriors from his hot air balloon 14. blimps are now fairies! see ya world...

bublu&bwyn on Dec 26, 2007


Its a small mistake, but..... "Lyra Belacqua, played by the charming Dakota Blue Richards, looks at the golden compass given to her by Lord Asriel." Actually, the compass was given by the Master of Jordan College.

DELaharl on Dec 29, 2007

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