46 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2008
The Golden Compass is a very ambitious film based on a very ambitious book. If you haven't read the book, and you liked this movie, you must go read the book. That said, this film really did seem rushed and a lot of the appealing aspects of the book are left out. However, most of what they changed made sense to me (like switching the order of events at Svalbard and Bolvangar) and made the flow of the movie work better.
My main problem with this movie is the same one I had with David Lynch's Dune: You really wouldn't know what's going on unless you've read the book. I saw the movie before I read the book, but my wife, who was watching it with me, had just finished the trilogy and she was able to explain a lot of what I was seeing - much like when I watch Dune with someone who hasn't read the book.
So in the end, The Golden Compass suffers from being too complex and fast-paced in order to do justice to the book it's based on. Yes, I liked the movie a lot (enough to buy it for my library), and it inspired me to read the fantastic novels, but those who haven't read the book may be confused by what they're seeing.
I wholeheartedly recommend this movie, but I really recommend reading the book first to get everything out of it.
186 of 243 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2007
The special effects and the cinematography of "The Golden Compass" are wonderful, but it's the subtext that really shines through, making for one of the most unique, fascinating, and entertaining fantasy films of recent memory. Just as it is in the film, the plot of Philip Pullman's original novel suggested that free will was kept under strict control. The film brings this idea to the surface and allows the audience to analyze it; in a parallel universe--in which a person's soul is separate and physically represented by an animal--a ruthless organization called the Magisterium tries to enforce rules against free will. Anyone who challenges its authority will be condemned as a heretic. Because they wanted to ensure total compliance, the Magisterium sought to destroy every last alethiometer, or golden compass--a magical, watch-like mechanism that literally tells the truth by pointing at strange symbols.
The one alethiometer that survived is now in the possession of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), a college professor who defies the Magisterium by confirming the existence of dust. I'm not referring to the allergy-inducing particles that settle on ordinary surfaces; I'm referring to the magical substance that's somehow related to a rift between their universe and ours. Because this has put him at odds with the Magisterium, he gives the alethiometer to his orphaned niece, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a young girl raised by the professors at a university. Lyra, who absolutely hates being called a lady, is clever, bold, and incredibly headstrong, with an adventurous spirit that occasionally gets her into trouble. Her spirit--or daemon, as referred to by the characters--is Pan (voiced by Freddie Highmore), who hasn't quite decided which animal form to take. He spends most of his time as a ferret, but he also turns into a cat, a bird, and a mouse.
When Lyra hears that her uncle is traveling to the snowy north to find the dust and open this cross-dimensional rift, she wishes to join him. Asriel refuses to let her, and he warns her against speaking of dust to anyone. Here enters Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), the wicked, controlling head of the Magisterium; she quickly learns that the alethiometer is in Lyra's possession and vows to reclaim it by tricking Lyra onto her good side. Mrs. Coulter's true nature is soon revealed, and upon escaping, Lyra is put under the protection of the Gyptians, a band of rebels who were once aided by Lord Asriel. As they journey north with Lyra, she also meets: Serafina (Eva Green), an elegant, almost ethereal witch; Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott), a grizzled pilot who speaks like a Texan from the Old West; and Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen), a disgraced polar bear who was once a great warrior among an entire clan of polar bears. To rid himself of his shame, he decides to reclaim his stolen armor and protect Lyra at whatever cost.
This is pretty much the foundation for the adventure that follows, an adventure so big that it isn't over even when the movie ends. But in the grand scheme of things, the adventure is fairly superficial and only part of what makes it so wonderful; "The Golden Compass" is just as thought provoking as it is enjoyable, filled to the brim with intelligent, meaningful undertones. This isn't to say that the film exists entirely as one big commentary--a good portion of it functions at a level of pure entertainment, from the convincing special effects to the stunning set designs to the fantastic mechanical creations. The story is not one of the future, the past, or even the present; its unique setting has essentially made any sense of time meaningless. And let's not forget a number of lighthearted moments between Lyra and her best friend, Roger (Ben Walker), both of whom are more like bonded siblings.
But there is a dark side to this story. For one thing, the Magisterium is involved in a sinister plot to kidnap children and sever the connections between them and their daemons. The sooner they lose their spirits (pun definitely intended), the quicker they can be controlled. There's also a general sense of foreboding that runs through the entire film, as if to say that certain things are not as simple as they may first appear. Consider the fact that a person's physical pain is also felt by his or her daemon, and vice versa: What exactly will happen if one of them dies? Can one exist without the other? And how exactly are daemons a threat to free will?
The fact that I'm asking these questions is a good thing, because it proves that "The Golden Compass" is a stimulating film. Rarely is a fantasy story allowed to transcend the limiting clichés of princesses, castles, dragons, swords, and predictable Hero's Journeys. Here's a film that actually brings something new to the genre, something fresh, exciting, daring, and determined. This is not a mind-numbing rehash; it's a thoroughly original experience, highlighted by delightful performances, a solid structure, and a well-rounded social commentary. I suppose I should make a note about the Catholic Church's poor reception of this film, but why bother? Religion--or lack thereof--has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with being engaging, smart, and imaginative.
65 of 84 people found the following review helpful
Not being one who seeks out the seemingly endless line of Harry Potter/Narnia/Lord of the Rings tropes (a little computer generated monster realm goes a long way), THE GOLDEN COMPASS came somewhat as a pleasant surprise. Yes, this is still a fantasy film, but the emphasis is more on stylish creation of various animals (in the forms of 'daemons' that accompany children as their souls, morphing into various animal life at will) than tiresome explosions and flying beasties.
Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is clearly the star of this adventure that explores the possibility of other, parallel worlds whose interaction with the world as we know it is controlled by various groups of good guys and bad guys, all seeking the source of secrecy contained in a Golden Compass that can only be read by a single girl - Lyra, a poor child living in the presence of scholars. Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) places the Golden Compass in Lyra's knowing hands and heads off to the far North to investigate the element that binds all life together - Dust. The tale is set in motion by the enigmatic Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) who gains Lyra's confidence and offers to take her to the great North. All manner of adventures occur on the journey - friends of Lyra's are threatened to be separated from their various daemons in the cruel hands of the bad guys, Lyra's encounter with a witch Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green), her assistance from a friendly astronaut (Sam Elliott) and an armored bear - and with all fantasies, good prevails - or does it? Tune in for the very obvious next installment.
The pleasures are many, not the least of which are the voices and changing forms of the little animal daemons. The cast is excellent and the whole movie sails with yet another beautiful musical score by Alexandre Desplat. It is a nice diversion, but you have to love fantasy. Grady Harp, May 08
37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
True, it's been a about three or so years since I've read Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, the books upon which this film is based, if you didn't know. But as that time three years ago was my second time going through the trilogy, I still like to think I had a decent memory of them along with a decent opinion. At the risk of offending fans, I always felt Pullman's characters--Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, Will, the whole gang--to be on the weak side of characterization, a few hops from being completely two-dimensional. STILL, I thought the story and theme to be on another plane entirely, certainly enough to make the books as famous as they are and even flesh out an entertaining movie.
I promise, I tried my best to like this movie, for the sake of those books. For the sake of Sam Elliot and the goddess Nicole Kidman. Heck, even for that cute little new girl. They all did their best, but frankly this movie was fluff, and it's hard to work with fluff. How could they take such thought- and controversy- provoking books and turn them into fluff? I'm hardly an atheist, but I had appreciated the story's urge for free thought, free will, and a keener look at authority. The smidgen they put in here was all too welcomed, but not enough to give this movie proper heart and soul.
What we are left with is a rushed train of lovely cinematography, scenery, and special effects that accompany an equally rushed plot. Yes, there is a lot of story to get into this movie, but making that the priority left me cold toward these characters who were weak in the book and utterly two-dimensional on screen. I felt like I was an infant teenager being instructed in the ways of generic fantasy. Talking bears? Soul-daemons? Other worlds? Texas as a country? Wonderful, fantastic ideas that appeared on the big screen like toys in hurried images.
I'm sorry, but while the director was having fun with the camera, the audience was confused by the random jumping from scene to scene, plot to plot.
So maybe it was a tragic result of putting a plot-based rather than character-based story in a movie that led to all story and show and no emotional depth. Maybe it was a tragic result of playing it safe by removing all blatant references to religion. Maybe I'm just a whiney book purist.
All I know is that the result was flashy, heartless, and boring.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Not knowing anything about `The Golden Compass' nor the book `Northern Lights' by Philip Pullman upon which this film is based, I must say I was not only pleasantly surprised, but amazed by what I saw and heard on my initial viewing. The visuals are astounding and the storyline is original, highly controversial (at least in the mind of some religious groups) and abnormally complex.
Maybe even more amazing to me than how good this film is, was the high volume of criticism and low ratings it has compiled from Amazon reviewers. I can discern only three possible reasons for this unlikely occurrence;
1- It's to be expected if the film diverges from the book, something purist cannot tolerant. (Again, not having read the book in question I cannot comment on its faithfulness to the source material).
2- It might be a case of not appreciating the complexity of the story. You can't just jump into this film and immediately know what's going on. You have to exert a little effort and brain power to work your way into this alternate universe before settling down for the ride.
3- However I'm certain that the biggest body of complaints come from Christian factions that don't like their belief system challenged in any form. The portrayal of an evil ruling body known as the Magisterium may hit a little too close to home for some Catholics and those within the Protestant camp will most certainly be bothered by seeing every human accompanied by what appears to be an animal familiar referred to as a daemon* (no it's not a demon, think of the Hellenistic concept of the daemonic).
*These animals are part of the individual. In this imaginary world the soul is separated from the body and exists as a companion creature that accompanies the individual throughout life.
If that wasn't enough to cause some of the faithful to begin beating their war drums and rattling their sabres it doesn't help to see a heroine who's furry companion is named Pan (short for Pantalaimon), an alluring Queen of the Witches with the angelic sounding name Serafina (i.e.: Seraphim) who fights with the "good guys", and the heroine's courageous Uncle, Lord Asriel who's name is all too similar to that of the fallen angel Azriel, long associated with the Devil.
These religious/mythological cross-references don't stop here. I noticed a couple borrowed from Norse mythology as well. There's Lorek Byrnison ( possibly referring to Loki, the trickster God) and the immense warrior, polar bear Ragnar Sturlusson could be a subtle reference to Ragnarok, the Nordic version of the Apocalypse.
Of course there's always the possibility that someone simply doesn't like the film for reasons I've yet to comprehend, but I can't imagine how anyone wouldn't enjoy such an imaginative, allegorical, fantasy adventure. In case you haven't figured it out by now, I loved it!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2009
Overall, pretty good, and better than I expected.
I actually had attempted the book before I saw the movie. And for me, the book didn't hook me. I had a hard time believing in the world, added to the fact that the story flowed very slowly in the beginning, which left me without a burning desire to finish the book (I stopped when she boarded the ship).
The movie, though slow in the beginning like the book, did pick up quite a bit as it went along. I was impressed with visual effects, loved the variety of characters (and actors they got to do the voices), and enjoyed the adventure that was unfolding. While the movie still contained some areas in the foundation that I questioned, had enough strengths and action to keep me moving along without stopping to focus too much on what I didn't believe.
Though I don't believe I'd pick up the series again to read, I would watch the next movie in the series.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This movie is fun to watch for the CGI world, and the acting is generally fine, but those are the only good parts. The overall storytelling is terrible, and the characters' motivations are never explained.
It starts in the narration at the beginning when we're told that the Magisterium wants to preserve their truth so they've destroyed all the alethiometers (which reveal hidden truths) and banned the mention of dust. What does the Magisterium fear from dust?? We're never told. And what "truths" is the Magisterium trying to protect? We're never told. The movie basically says, "They're the bad guys" but gives no other explanation.
What is the motivation of Nicole Kidman's character to do what she does? We're never told. How do the Gyptians (or whatever they're called) know that the missing kids have been taken to the north? We're never told. Why does the movie billing say that it stars Daniel Craig when he only appears in the first five minutes? We're never told!
However, we are "told" lots of the story. Instead of *showing* the story to us, several of the characters have long lines explaining all sorts of things for the benefit of the audience. Boring and contrived. And two characters tell Lyra bits of information that she uses later in the story, but the characters have no reason to tell her those things at the time that they tell her. Very awfully contrived.
One of the worst aspects of this movie is that it is an incomplete first installment that makes no attempt to wrap up any story lines so that the audience feels any sense of closure. The Harry Potter stories are all complete in themselves. The Narnia stories are all complete in themselves. This movie is just an ad for sequels. By the very end of the movie they have managed to assemble most (not all) of "the team" that is obviously intended to go on together. But even that is incomplete, with Lyra saying "Now let's go pick up my dad and add him to the team" but then the movie ends. They don't rescue dad. They don't explain the dust. They don't explain anyone's motivations. And they don't give the audience a satisfying movie experience.
I haven't read the book, but I'll be generous and assume that the author did a much better job with all this, and they just couldn't find a way to fit all the bits into the movie. Look elsewhere for a well-done fantasy movie. I hope they don't waste money and time on a sequel.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
I have never read any of the books, so I entered the film with very little in the way of an expectation of what the plot would be. Obviously I had seen the movie trailers, so I knew this was probably something in the NARNIA, ERAGON, perhaps even LORD OF THE RINGS vein.
First of all, it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that this movie is in same category as LOTR. Those films dared to take their time to tell a story, stretching to epic length. They developed characters we truly cared about. And much of the films actually took place in real landscapes. Think of all the breathtaking New Zealand locations that were used.
GOLDEN COMPASS is almost totally located in a CGI world. Not for one second does it feel solid or tangible. It's all very pretty to look at, but honestly it just feels a bit cold. NARNIA was the same way...it needed some sets that were REAL.
In addition, COMPASS zooms through its story, taking virtually no time to establish characters beyond simple archetypes. For instance, think of the character Sam Elliott plays. He's an "aeronaut," basically a pilot for hire (except he flies a motorized hot-air balloon concoction). Basically, his character is that same guy that Sam Elliott always plays...twinkly eyes, big mustache, grizzled look. That's it. We like him, because we always like Sam Elliott.
Anyway, I haven't touched on the plot, which is what has gotten so many people in an uproar, apparently. The story takes place in a "parallel" world, where people's souls live on the outside of them, are called "daemons" and take the shape of an animal of some sort. This is a neat idea...and allows for some of the more fanciful special effects, as we get to see each animal that is attached to a person. (For children, their "daemons" aren't settled yet, so the animal form will change.) In this world, things seem to be run primarily by The Magesterium...a powerful group of what seems like semi-fascist folks who are against "free will."
It's my understanding that in the books, this Magesterium is clearly a reference to the catholic church. That may be, but in the movie, it feels like a generic "big brother" type of organization. Their goal seems to be to figure out how to separate children from their "daemons" so that they are left "soulless" or at least without the gumption to resist the Magesterium. There seems to be any little real logic to any of this...we just have to accept it.
The young girl Lyra is entrusted with The Golden Compass, a device that "sees what is hidden." Naturally, the Magesterium are eager to get this from her, and to thwart her, they send Nicolle Kidman as a charismatic, glamorous woman of means to entice the girl to serve as her assistant. Lyra learns fairly soon not to trust this woman, and suddenly she sets out on a quest to free the children who've been kidnapped so that their souls can be stolen.
I'm guessing my plot summary is a bit confusing...and frankly, trying to sort all the tangents, politics, allegiances, etc. is tricky, and ultimately not very interesting. Mostly you just end up watching the movie in order to see all the spectacular scenes. Are there are some. The Ice Bears are impressive creations, and the big duel between a couple of them is a highpoint. Daniel Craig, as Lyra's uncle, has a brief but exciting chase scene out on the frozen tundra.
So the special effects ARE pretty special, for the most part. (Although I say again, I missed the tangibility of REAL landscapes.) But the script is trying to pack in too much in short span of time. The actors are more or less lost in the shuffle. Kidman looks the part, and she's always been good at playing cold, insincere parts. Craig has nothing to do, but his eyes look great. The young lady who plays Lyra is pretty game and well cast. But no one is going to win an Oscar for this film. Costumes and makeup do most of the acting.
Even though the film runs just under two hours, I frankly found myself bored at times. Ironically, I think that if the movie had been longer and taken the time to make us care about the character and to delineate what was at stake a bit better, I would have been more engaged. As it was, it was mostly a piece of eye candy.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
It is easy enough to say that "the book was better than the movie" -- since it is usually true that books offer a wealth of world that can only be hinted at in a couple of hours -- but this is a clear and disappointing case where the cliche fits. Even films like the Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series don't really measure up to the original books they were based upon -- but in the case of those films, especially the Lord of the Rings series, the movies work on their own. They establish their own world and it feels like a real world -- the characters seem to live there, and to understand it without constantly explaining it to each other. In the case of the Golden Compass, unfortunately, that just isn't true. Lyra explains things about their connection to her daemon Pan, and several characters give fairly long speeches explaining details to each other that they either would have known or that the filmmakers should have found more cinematic ways to make clear to the audience.
So far this sounds like I'm griping, and maybe I am -- I had high expectations for this film, since the books are brilliant and have a very strong visual component. In the hands of someone like Peter Jackson, this could have been an amazing film. As it stands it is merely competent -- the actors were chosen very well for their parts, but the script makes their dialogue a bit wooden, with every character announcing who they are and explaining their history every time someone new shows up. Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter and the young woman who plays Lyra are the only characters who are really given enough space to come across as real. The daemons who are so central to the book feel more like sidekick pets than external manifestations of the living soul of the characters.
On the other hand -- the film looks very good and for the most part the CGI components of the world mesh well with the realistic elements. As a kind of living illustration to accompany the book after it has been read, the film works -- but not as a stand alone.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2008
.....Amazing how they managed to completely miss the point of the book. They took all the action from the book, but left out the important information that supports the action. The movie briefly mentions Dust at the beginning...and never goes anywhere with that idea. Never mentions anything about the religious beliefs behind Dust and its connection to children and their Daemons. I personally dont see how they can make the 2nd film....because thats what it most deals with...(atleast as far as I have read into it so far.)
The movie as a movie was well made....as a book to movie adaptation it is horrible. Read the book first, then see the movie! The book is WAY better.