Customer Review

117 of 145 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Far from golden, 16 April 2008
This review is from: The Golden Compass [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
Watching the first adaptation of Philip Pullman's excellent trilogy is one part admiration and two parts disappointment. First off, you have to admire the courage of director Chris Weitz, who took in the scope and ambition of these novels, stepped forward from the pack and bravely took the wheel of this vehicle into his hands. Unfortunately, once we were done patting him on the back for that, there's no avoiding the bitter disappointment of realising that our drive has bitten off far more than his ability can chew, and we are being catapulted, arms up and screaming, off of the road.
The truth is that there is so much wrong with this movie that its hard to keep your chin up for it. First off, Ian "if its fantasy I'm compulsory" Mckellen is disgracefully miscast as key character, Iorek Brynison. As Pullman presented him, Iorek is a young, energetic prince that has lost his way, desperately in need of the inadvertent guidance Lyra (our heroine) offers. Mckellen (inevitably) presents Iorek as an aging, disposed king looking to reclaim his long-lost kingdom. This is far enough off the mark to make the character practically unrecognisable to fans of the book (or at least to me) though this of course will not be an issue for those coming to the film without preconceptions.
Secondly, the script is just awful. Hollywood fat-cats only know how several previous rewrites were discarded in favour of this nonsense. Granted, there are a sea of concepts to convey, but so much of the dialogue is descriptive that any attempt to suspend disbelief is broken long before it can gather steam. For example, Lyra bangs her knee and her daemon, Pantalaimon, protests "Careful Lyra, Don't you know that if you get hurt, I hurt too!" Of course she bloody knows! She's twelve years old!! Is this the first time she's experienced any sensory perception whatsoever!!? honestly. This sort of thing could have been done so much more subtly and the film is so rife with similar examples that by the time two hours was through I was raw from it.
Needless to say this has a direct effect on the performances, which despite the talent on show are almost uniformly wooden and poor. The audience in the cinema were made so uncomfortable watching the cast wade through this verbal tripe that my first viewing of the second matrix film was brought to mind. The actors on the screen before you so clearly don't believe in their dialogue or environment that you are left with a brutally clear perception of a series of short set pieces. As the camera fades from each moment you can almost here the director screaming "Cut! Alright lets do it again." In short there is no fluidity at all and no possibility of getting swept along in the performances.
Finally, even the direction manages to strip Pullmans' world of much its grandeur and scope. You get no sense of the majesty, spritualism and influence of the witches (the actually well cast Eva Green is criminally underused as Witch-Queen Serefina Pekkela) and the set piece battles lack any urgency or sense of scale whatsoever. Remember when the orks marched on Helm's deep in the two towers? It was absolutely terrifying. I was crawling up my chair. Contrast that with the battle at the end of the Golden Compass and its easy to see how far this film has fallen from the required mark. The battle here lacks any sense of scale, importance or consequence. Worst of all the frame is so sparsely populated, driven and focussed that we are sadly given the sense that this is more of a mere skirmish, helping Lyra to escape. It looks like a fight in an alpine pub car park. Again, bitterly disappointing.
I won't even get started on the decision to play down the religious aspects or how on earth the producers intend to make this work in the second and third books where this emerges as the overriding drive of the plot. How on earth the death of god and the acsendancy of Metatron can be reinterpreted escapes me entirely. I sense an almighty fudge coming.
Its sad because there is otherwise much here to be admired. Lyra's world is for the briefest of moments through out the film beautifully realised and the animation of the daemons at least is a triumph. There's no doubting the effort. Casting man of the moment Daniel Craig was also a clever decision and hopefully he and Nicole Kidman can combine for something of a success story in the second and third films- assuming they are ever made.
The truth is that this film has been on it way for years, riding a fever pitch of anticipation, and there is no hiding the sadness and disillusionment of the Pullman faithful to see what has become of the first instalment. Forget lord of the rings- think phantom menace. And how sorry I am to say so.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 May 2008 14:05:04 BDT
Dayboat says:
You summed it all up. I have no need to write another word. I'll simply say, what a waste.

Posted on 25 Sep 2009 15:21:49 BDT
Last edited by the author on 25 Sep 2009 15:22:36 BDT
AK-87 says:
I am a big reader and a bigger movie buff and this is by far the most accurate review I have ever read on this website. Spot on and well done.

There was so much potential with HDM (Our nations 3rd favourite book according to The BBC's Big Read!) and I sincerely believed that the film would get a 12A certificate, some negative publicity driven by The Church and that Mr Potter would be promptly knocked off his pedestal. The fact of the matter is that the studio bottled it. Had the studio have been braver, JK Rowling would be presently dabbing the beads of sweat off her brow because with Lyra and Will in the blue corner and Harry and Hermione in the red corner, there was only ever going to be one winner.

As I tell anyone who watches this film, 'Read the trilogy as a whole and you will be astounded by its brilliance!'

Posted on 6 Nov 2009 14:05:50 GMT
Persephone says:
Excellent review. I knew this film would be dreadful the moment I looked at the casting, hardly anyone is suitably cast IMO. That's only the start of the issues with this film.

To anyone else: read the books, they're fantastic.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Dec 2009 16:16:46 GMT
J.Y says:
Should have focused more on the plot/story than the casting. Most of the actors did not fit their role. Harry Potter for instance, managed to visually represent characters from the books as people had imagined them (at least in my case). Northern Lights in my opinion was terribly miscast, as if the director thought his failings in vision could be redeemed through good acting, that was not the case.

I hope this film is redone in the future. A trilogy based off this would not work. I've read the books, and I could not work out what was going on in the movie as the story was so thinly outlined.
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