The Golden Compass: Motion Picture
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, is the first book of an exciting trilogy about a young girl named Lyra who is drawn into an adventure that crosses into different dimensions and determines the fate of her realm as well as all others. In the first installment, Lyra is lured away from a familiar life at Jordan College to become the assistant of the beautiful Mrs. Coulter, while her closest friend, Roger, mysteriously disappears. When Lyra realizes Mrs. Coulter is up to no good, and finds out that Roger is in danger, she sets out on a perilous quest to save her friend.
The story is a bit laden with detail, but the intricate web of events pulls together to bring you a solid adventure worth reading. With that being said, I must admit I am a bit fearful about the quality of the movie trilogy. It was a very enjoyable, yet brief romp into the fantasy world created by Pullman. For those who have never read the books, the movie should be satisfying, despite some obscurities. Those who have read the books will most likely have mixed feelings, like myself. The more extremist hardcore fans will more than likely bash this film.
I’ll start with what the movie does wrong. The Golden Compass as a book is saturated with details and serves as the foundation for the rest of the trilogy. Therefore, it’s a real shame that The Golden Compass as a motion picture is missing a few key events that were not only interesting, but imperative to the story. Why they didn’t make it a three-hour epic in the vein of Lord of the Rings is beyond me. At a meager one hour and thirteen minutes, it would be impossible to squeeze in all the important information, but the creators do try. As a result, the events in the movie don’t always feel seamless, and have a rushed quality to them. If you didn’t read the books and miss the exposition at the beginning, you will find yourself lost in obscurity throughout the rest of the film. Even if you do pay attention, you may still find yourself wondering who’s who, or why certain characters are important at all.
Some of the events were changed slightly in order to make the movie more appropriate for and accessible to children. Although there is plenty of violence in the later stages of the movie, it isn’t a bloody, visceral mess. The chronology of two important events were reversed; something that most readers will find annoying. Without leaving spoilers, let me warn you and say that Svalbard happens before Bolvanger, which leaves the story line looking a little ragged.
Despite some glaring flaws that only readers will notice, and the brief duration, the film does have its merits. It serves as a sort of cliff’s notes for the books and may inspire interest in reading the trilogy. The special effects are spectacular and the visuals top-notch. The world in the film closely approximates what I could envision the book world to look like. And now to the superb casting…
The main characters are very well portrayed when compared to their literary counterparts. Dakota Blue Richards plays the role of Lyra, and does an outstanding job of capturing her ardent will and intelligence. Mrs. Coulter is charming and mesmerizing, yet her allure masks her malevolence. Nicole Kidman couldn’t have been a better choice for the seductively deceptive villainess. Ian McKellan, known for his role as Gandolf in LOTR, provides a strong, deep voice for the fearsome armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, who is a CGI wonder.
I want to love the movie, but can’t. I don’t wish to unfairly critique this movie solely on the basis of being inconsistent with the book. I don’t expect a movie to be identical to the book, because it’s impossible to achieve such depth in even three hours. This film captures the essence of The Golden Compass as a story, but falls short in details and effect. Had it been three hours, it could have filled in the missing pieces and been more coherent.
The movie was well envisioned, yet rushed and perhaps overly edited. For what it’s worth, it’s still a fantastic attempt to bring to life an extraordinary universe created by Philip Pullman. I only hope they don’t skim on the plot in the sequels.