Sunday, September 21, 2014

Family Movie Night: The Golden Compass

Title: The Golden Compass
Director: Chris Weitz
Original Release: 2007
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 2 stars out of 5

The Golden Compass.jpg
"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...

!!!!!!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!

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.


  1. What a shame it was such a great book. I read after the movie.
    I figured out the daemons but I had daughter to help. That is one of the thing many "born agains ?" protested about.
    But after all the troubles and the amount of money spent, the bad reviews daughter figured out no sequel. I wish there was a sequel and even with all the problems I liked the film. Maybe they could have redeemed themselves.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. I'd probably watch a sequel if they made one. I like the story enough to at least give them another shot. But they shot themselves in the foot with the first one.

  2. Two things happened with that movie:
    1. There was a huge protest against it during the production because of Pullman and his blatant anti-church/anti-Christian dogma. The production studio thought they would try to soften that stuff up so as not to offend people. Of course, that set fans of the book against the movie, and it didn't do anything to ameliorate the effects of the quasi-boycott against it. So no one went to see it, basically, and it lost a buttload of money.
    2. But the studio had thought it was going to be the beginning of a franchise; there were plans to adapt the whole series. That's why the ending was left the way it was. But no money, no sequel, so even the people that did go see it were very unhappy with it.

    1. In trying to please everyone, they didn't leave much left to like. At least they could have created a cult movie - a la Life of Brian - that people could come back to later after everyone's knickers get unbunched. I know studios don't work that way, especially with a nine-figure budget. But instead, they have a very expensive shell of a movie.

  3. Once again, movie adaptations are so iffy! There is nothing more disappointing than taking a well-loved book, building up the sense of expectations with the fan base - then bleh. It almost makes me want to chose one format or the other and never combine them.

    1. Every once in a while, it works beautifully. The Harry Potter movies are excellent. One who loves the books is satisfied. One who only knows the movies can enjoy them on their own terms. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, too. The Hobbit? There are some issues there...

  4. It always sucks when they "assume" there will be a sequel and it never happens. It almost always weakens a movie.

    1. It's a good lesson, isn't it? Even if you're planning/hoping for a series, that first film had darn well better be able to stand on its own or you're toast.

  5. Replies
    1. I adore both. The two media have a lot to learn from one another, too.

  6. I remember the effects were beautiful, but the movie wasn't memorable for me.

    1. I completely understand. I don't know if we'd even have bothered with it if not for the book.

  7. I never saw this movie, and I don't think I ever read the series. I will definitely have to read the books- but I will skip the movie. Thanks for sharing!