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Waterglass Movie Review: The Golden Compass

While I quite enjoyed the novel trilogy titled His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, the movie version of the first book, The Golden Compass, was poorly executed and did a grave disservice to the source material.

In addition to suffering from an overabundance of clumsy plot exposition and excess CGI effects, the movie was far too sanitized.  There were plenty of fights, but not a drop of blood.  The antagonist in the novels was The Magisterium, Lyra’s world’s Catholic church.  The antagonist in the movie was The Magisterium, Lyra’s world’s, um.  I don’t know.  It wasn’t explained what The Magisterium was, other than an evil organization dedicated to keeping people in ignorance.  The screenwriter was obviously too concerned about offending anyone and not so worried about creating an interesting story.  It was turned into a kid’s movie, despite that the novels were not really children’s novels. 

On top of that, everything was horribly rushed, without enough establishing shots to give one the impression of distance traveled or time passing.  I don’t see how people who hadn’t read the books would follow the story, and plenty of characters were introduced but given little time: Farder Coram and Serafina Pekkala, for example.  The first scene with Iorek Byrnison made little sense without context.  It was all mashed together into short scenes hurriedly stapled into a patchwork quilt amateur storytelling.

Some of the visuals were better than others, but much did not fit.  The costumes were excellent, but many of the props were not and went against what was shown in the novels.  The movie’s dirigibles were more electrical (anbaric) than they should’ve been, and I don’t recall there being horseless carriages in the books.  The intercision device was far too high-tech; the books described a large blade-like instrument used to cut daemons from people: something horrible and sickening.  Making it a laser beam in a box made it more sterile than scary. 

One thing I liked a great deal were the daemons, which were extremely well done.  Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey was creepy, and Stelmaria majestic and frightening.  My favorite was Scoresby’s daemon Hester, nicely voiced for the few lines she had by Kathy Bates.  The servants all had dog daemons, and the evil characters like Fra Pavel and the Bolvangar head had insects.  The armored bears were great and terrifying and huge.  The casting was also pretty good, especially Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, and John Faa.  I was less impressed with Daniel Craig, who wasn’t quite as menacing and towering a figure as he could or should have been, and Tom Courtenay as Farder Coram, who was just too young for the role.

All in all, a most disappointing effort, and I’d be surprised if they film a sequel. 

Waterglass Rating: 49% full.

4 comments to Waterglass Movie Review: The Golden Compass

  • Joshua

    It doesn’t get any better than armored bears.

    Considering the review, I was surprised that you gave it a (close to) half full rating.

    Care to respond?

  • It was probably the Christmas spirit that possessed me and made me give it a higher percentage than it deserved.

    Care to respond to my response?

  • Joshua

    Considering your religious affiliation, I find it hard to believe that you were infected by the “Christmas spirit” (to borrow your charming term).

    Care to respond to my response of your response to my comment?

  • No, I don’t care.