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Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lots of "telling" and no clear character motivation, July 18, 2008
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This review is from: The Golden Compass (Widescreen Single-Disc Edition) (DVD)
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.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 23, 2008 10:17:14 PM PDT
jheartney says:
Well, I HAVE read the book, and I can say you are right, the storytelling hangs together far better in the book than in the movie. It is true that much is left to be explained in the second and third books, but the characters and their actions have much greater depth and coherence in the books, mostly because the movie goes through the events in such a rush that one hardly gets a sense of what is going on, or why.

Even so, the movie ends well before the place where book one ends, and thus we miss the culmination of Lord Asriel's plan to bridge the gap between worlds. (Lord Asriel himself is a far more interesting and morally ambiguous character in the books; for example, his scheme to go to other worlds requires him to murder a young child in cold blood). Serafina Pekkala, a pivotal character, barely has any lines in the movie. As a resultof all this, characters end up spending much of their meager speaking parts spouting exposition. Further, the script is too chicken to allow the audience to figure things out, so we get even more exposition to explain things like the relationship of people to their daemons which the book simply takes as a given and expects readers to keep up.

The production IS sumptuous, and Dakota Blue Richards does very well with her character. But the film ends up seeming more like the edited highlights of a movie rather than the movie itself. A shame, as the story in good enough to deserve a less rushed telling.
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