Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Movie Review - The Golden Compass

I've decided to break my 'Movies I've seen of late' blog posts down into the individual films as it will feel like I'm being a bit more regular with my blog (!). Also, I can be a bit more in depth than previously. The one thing I will be doing is ensuring I review any and every movie I see meaning, it will be a varied mix of old, new and nearly-new.

So, on with the first review of 2012!

The Golden Compass (2007)
This is a good film to watch in the run up to Christmas, mainly because it's an 'epic' film with a lot of, um, snow in it. Unfortunately, Compass fails to compare to the source material and is merely a paint-by-numbers adventure that could have been so much more.

I enjoyed the Dark Materials books, which were refreshingly innovative and exceptionally well-written. They received a huge amount of criticism, mainly from the Christian community for being anti-religion, but I personally think that's a good thing. Religion can easily get in the way of a genuine faith and can be the source of much negative aspects of humanity including guilt, abuse and corruption. I think that's what Phillip Pullman was really attacking in his books (even if his target was meant to be 'God').

As for the film, The Golden Compass (which should have been entitled 'Northern Lights', but that's the US market for you) is an enjoyable story in itself which follows the original plot relatively closely,
with good performances from Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman (not forgetting Dakota Blue Richards as the heroine Lyra). The costumes and sets are remarkable, successfully imagining Lyra's steampunk alternate universe.

What is obvious is that the studio was hoping for another Lord of the Ring trilogy (just look at the cast list – the producers clearly believed that hiring a bunch of well-respected British actors would lead to box office success). What they failed to do, however, was respect the book and the director who was trying to realise it on the big screen. This is odd given that New Line also made LOTR. Chris Weitz didn't have a particularly easy time making the film, and was quite open about the studio's interference in post-production.

And that's probably why Compass is lacking any heart.

Apparently the studio opted to keep the running time down in order to maximise profits. This is unbelievably short-sighted and cowardly. Even though the movie managed to make its money back internationally, had it been a better-made film it could well have spawned two sequels (which takes the story to even more bizarre and interesting levels), earning New Line even more cash.

So we never will get to see Lyra fulfil her destiny on the big screen (unless someone tries an ambitious reboot in twenty years time or something). This is a shame because Compass really only gets going at the end. Most of the film is devoted to setting everything up, so when you reach the final act it all seems to finish rather abruptly because there's still a lot more for Lyra and her gang to do.

Hats off to Chris Weitz for getting through a difficult shoot and making a film that, while flawed, still makes some kind of sense. It's just disappointing to know that it could have been a far greater piece of work.

Verdict: 5 out of 10.

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