TGC is another big screen adaptation in the same vein as Lord Of The Rings, but comes across as more like the poorly adapted Chronicles Of Narnia. The Golden Compass is based on Philip Pullman’s incredible "His Dark Materials" trilogy and this is only the first instalment.
For those who haven’t read the books, the premise is as follows: Lyra is an orphan, who lives in a stuffy Oxford college. Her uncle, the dashing explorer Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig, now recognized as the Mr. James Bond) placed her there to be educated. Lyra has other ideas as she spends most of her time playing in the woods with the local gypsy boys and running around the colleges where she has fun participating in innocent adolescent activities. However, not everything is quite so innocent in this unique world. The controlling power is the Magistirum, (a very thinly disguised Catholic church) that is secretly carrying out unpalatable and highly unethical experiments at the North Pole. The Magistirum organization wants to rule the world, and possibly all other worlds that can be seen in the curtains of the Northern lights.
Lyra’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of the beautiful and slightly sinister Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) who wants to take her to the North of Norway where she has been working. Also, further adding depth to the story, Lyra’s friend Rodger has been kidnapped by ‘the gobblers’, a shadowy group of child thieves. She is determined to help find him. Reluctantly, her guardians at the college agree to let her go and the adventure begins both for Lyra and for moviegoers.
The trouble with the film is the script just isn’t very good. Director Chris Weitz seems to have forgotten to emphasize some of the most important parts of the book, and it feels as if they are rushing from chapter 1 to chapter 20 as quickly as they can.
The magic that Pullman elegantly weaved into his books simply isn’t there on the screen. The cast perform well, struggling against what is often poor and wooden dialogue.
Nicole Kidman looks stunning as Mrs. Coulter and Dakota Blue Richards (Lyra) is destined to be a huge star. Daniel Craig (Lord Asriel) is heroically bearded and vastly under used. Sam Elliot does his stock in trade as a smiley-eyed cowboy balloon pilot (can he do anything else?). Derick Jacobi is suitably creepy, while evil Eva Green looks beautiful as Serafina Pekkala the 4oo year old witch. But the film does little in the way of letting them act or develop their characters past being one-dimensional.
The character who stands out, but who is also ambushed like the rest of them by the awful script, is Iorek Byrnison; a huge amour clad, talking, fighting, strangely camp, polar bear, voiced by Sir Ian Mckellen. Regrettably, even his talents can’t save this mess of a movie.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like in this film. It looks visually incredible and the special effects are breath taking. Every scene is dripping with CGI from the pseudo Victorian cities to the vast ice covered artic. The whole production is a lot of fun, but there is something missing. It feels too sentimental, too watered down, too…safe, As if they didn’t have the stones to do the book the justice it deserves. Even the great battle at the end with witches, ice bears, wolves and gypsies is spectacularly void of any tension.
I, like so many others was in awe of the darkness, scale and intelligence displayed in the books. Those same elements that captivated kids and adults alike are tragically and unforgivably absent from this screen adaptation. The Golden Compass simply lacks the courage and magic of the books. It gets tangled up in itself and lost along the way. If you have not read the books then I urge you to do so, but don’t bother with the movie if you have, it will only disappoint you. Big shame.
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