Director: Chris Weitz
Original Release: 2007
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 2 stars out of 5
"The Golden Compass" by The poster art can be obtained from the following website: IMP Awards.. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.
Let me begin by saying that the book, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, is wonderful as the entire trilogy, His Dark Materials. My Wife and I fell in love with the story through the full cast audiobooks during road trips even before we were married. We have enjoyed sharing the series with our daughter, too. We have avoided the film until now. The reviews were not good during the original release and we all know the disappointment of a mediocre adaptation of a beloved book.
Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is an orphan under the care of professors at Oxford. Times are dark, with children being stolen away from their homes in the middle of the night. When Lyra's best friend, Roger is abducted, she vows to find him. One day, the mysterious Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) whisks her away to a new life, though it quickly becomes apparent that her new benefactor is very wicked indeed. Lyra bolts and makes many colorful new friends: river-traveling Gyptians, witches, an armored bear and a Texan aeronaut.
Lyra has a daemon, as do all humans in her parallel world. A daemon is an external manifestation of the soul, taking the form of an animal companion, remaining faithfully at the human's side for his/her entire life. The daemons are the defining feature of this fantasy world and the book lingers lovingly over the relationship between Lyra and hers, Pantalaiman. Pan is her playmate and confidant. His ever-changing shape - cat to bird to squirrel to whatever - is a constant delight. Lyra dreads the day Pan's form will settle, as always happens when the human comes of age. This beautiful bond is essential for fully appreciating the horror exacted upon the abducted children.
The movie glazes over the daemons. They're included but I don't know if I would have fully understood their importance if I hadn't read the book. Without that context, it's just another adventure story, the world's essential magic lost. I don't know if I would even have cared if I hadn't read the book. Then they screwed up the ending. More on that in a bit.
The film is not without its strengths. The casting is superb. In addition to Kidman, we get Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Christopher Lee as First High Councillor and Sam Elliott as the balloonist, Lee Scoresby ("It's really too bad," My Wife said of Elliott. "This is the role he was born to play."). The voice cast is outstanding, too: Sir Ian McKellan, Kristin Scott Thomas and Kathy Bates. The visuals are very satisfying as well. If they'd seen the story all the way through to the end of the book, I might have been convinced to grant a rating of 3 but alas, no...
The film ends after Lyra finds Roger and they head toward the North Pole to find Lyra's father, Lord Asriel. Lyra believes this will solve everything, just as in the book. We are left with hope.
The book ends with Roger dead and Lyra and her entire world betrayed by Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. We are also left with the sense that even with all the adventures of book 1, Lyra's story is just beginning. The movie ends with no resolution whatsoever. Were they planning to leave the "real ending" for a sequel film? Whatever. I felt cheated.
!!!!!!!!!END OF SPOILER!!!!!!!
My Rating System:
5 = The best of the best. These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films. They're fine. Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it. It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film. An insult to the art form.