As a book, The Golden Compass was fairly entertaining and a bit offensive, theologically . When I read it a few weeks ago, I knew the movie was coming out and half expected it to translate well onto the big screen. As a movie, The Golden Compass is like having a 10-year old tell the story while hopped up on sugar and cocaine. It moves so fast, I honestly have no idea how people can follow along if they’ve not read the book.
There are obvious shortcuts a movie must make due to the medium. In this case, the opening scene pans over Oxford, through a tear in the fabric of space (which looks freakin cool) into another Oxford as a narrator explains multi-dimensional worlds, souls & daemons, and Dust. I think most of this could have been inferred by the audience, but maybe not.
They took another shortcut with Ms. Coulter. From the start, it’s fairly obvious she’s a bad guy, and they make no attempt to conceal her connection to the Gobblers. In the book, that section seemed to be drawn out and fairly boring. In the movie, it’s played out in two scenes. First, a long explanation of kids being kidnapped, followed immediately by the golden monkey kidnapping kids. When Lyra escapes Ms. Coulter’s house (in a badly changed scene), we’re only twenty minutes into the movie.
I never liked Lyra in the books, and on-screen, she’s no better. The actress (by Hollywood law, named Dakota) does a decent job. But playing a spoiled brat doesn’t make me like her or want to root for her.
The theological issues that have people up in arms have been neutered in the movie version. The Church is only called the Magisterium, and all references to the Authority are left intentionally vague so that it could be “authority” (lower case). On the other hand, some references are left in. Those against the Magesterium are called heretics and the Dust explanation is described as human’s ancestors once rebelling against the Magisterium’s authority (or Authority).
For good things, the actors are all perfectly cast with the best being Sam Elliot. That man can definitely play a Texan. Kathy Bates plays his daemon hare and fits perfectly. Iorek is voiced by Ian McKellen. Not a bad choice, but it was a bit too close to Gandalf.
The CG is also very well done. Pan’s shape-shifting moments look natural and are very cool to watch. When someone dies, their daemon disintegrates into Dust particles. It’s very well done, but a bit overused by the end. The only problem is Ms. Coulter’s golden monkey. I’m not sure if another CG team worked on him, but he’s the least convincing looking in the film. Which is sad because he’s arguably the most important to get right.
The ending is also changed significantly. I’m not sure why the director chose to do this (maybe he ran out of time), but the movie ends far before the book. It leaves less of a cliffhanger, but I thought the movie version of The Subtle Knife had already been greenlit.
So to sum up, if you’ve read the book, I’d watch this only if you’re curious about the changes. If you’ve not read the book, I honestly have no idea how you could keep up with the “blink and you’ll miss something important” pace. Whatever you do, don’t take any bathroom breaks.
Grade: B- (Because I had to kill some time this afternoon, it only cost me $5, and I was curious to see what they did with it)