Reposted from Blogger
Movie Review: The Golden Compass – December 2, 2007
April 20, 2014 Note: Since this original blog post, I’ve read all three books in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and I think they are all excellent. One day I might review the books. I’m also quite sad that the sequels to the movie never happened.
Stephanie and I bought tickets to see a sneak preview of The Golden Compass earlier this evening. Until a few days ago, I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of it or the book that it was based on.
The Golden Compass is an epic fantasy based on a three novels written by a British author. Much of the film (and original book) contains strong religious commentary. Hmmm… where have we seen this before?
While comparisons to Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia are warranted, however, this is definitely an original story. Based on the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, it tells the story of a 12-year-old girl named Lyra Belacqua, who embarks on a journey to uncover an insidious conspiracy and rescue her best friend. Anthropomorphic bears, an army of witches, an interesting mix of advanced technology and Victorian atmosphere, and animal spirit guides that act as human souls are just part of Lyra’s adventures. But, what has created controversy is the handling of religious belief. The “Magisterium”, a thinly veiled euphemism for the Catholic Church, pretty much appears to be the primary authoritative body in this universe. They are conniving and ruthless, and seem to get a kick out of performing vile experiments on children and supressing scientific progress. Obviously a critical allegory. The author is an atheist, and is a vocal critic of religion, and the religious allegory in The Chronicles of Narnia. Many within the Catholic Church are up in arms about this movie and have also criticized the novels. Sort of like what happened with the Kevin Smith film Dogma. And, like Dogma, the criticism (to these agnostic eyes) appears to be unjustified.
According to what I have read, much of the religious allegory has been toned down for the movie. And, what remains is more generic, primarily a criticism of intolerance and ignorance in general. Not quite as powerful as before, but hardly worthy of controversy. I guess some people just aren’t happy unless they have something to get worked up about.
Anyway, on to the movie. Because this film was based on the first part of a three-part story, it is clear that a sequel (actually two) is intended. Indeed, the rather abrupt ending is clearly leading into another chapter. I have read that the producers are waiting to see how successful the film is before committing to any sequels – probably a smart move. However, the ending is SO blatantly setting up the next part, that not continuing the series would nearly ruin this movie. And that would be a shame, because this really is a well-made film. The production values are superb, although that’s not really surprising considering the $200 million budget. The plot moves along quickly. In fact, when it ended, I felt like the movie was too short (not having read the books yet, I can’t say what has been omitted). The Golden Compass was well-paced, and at less then two hours, much shorter than other recent fantasy epics. The acting was uniformly excellent, especially Dakota Blue Richards, the young actress who plays the heroine of the tale. The CGI work is pretty obviously computer-generated, however, it is integrated quite well with the flesh and blood actors and scenery, so that willing suspension of disbelief is easy. I found it to be fairly straightforward, plot-wise, and while I was unfamiliar with the source material, I had no trouble keeping up. The overall feel of the movie definitely lived up to the concept of an epic. Having said that, it felt strange to be unhappy that a movie wasn’t longer, considering the glut of overlong, bloated, big-budget monstrosities that have hit theatres in recent years.
I have to say I sincerely hope that the sequels are made, because while it is a very competent stand-alone fantasy epic, the ending leaves us hanging. Despite the good vs. evil story line, the religious controversy, and the impressive visuals, it’s potential lies in what happens next.
At the very least, I should read the books.