The Golden Compass

Director    Chris Weitz
Starring    Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green, Sam Elliot
Release    7 DEC (US) 5 DEC (UK)    Certificate PG
2 stars


28th December 2007

You can see why this was made by New Line. It's 100ft tall with CGI signs all over it: "Hey, a fantasy trilogy based on popular books! Payday-tastic! Green light now!" Hell, they even put Saruman and Gandalf into the film for an ironclad Tolkien seal of approval. I mean, if those guys are in it, it must be as good as 'the other fantasy trilogy', right?

I'm sad to say that it's completely, utterly and elf-mongously not the case. What pains is that director Chris Weitz comes close to capturing the books essence. But when he misses? Oh boy, does he miss. The major plot points of the book are there (though oddly rejigged) and all the characters are present, so it should give the same pleasure meeting the players and the events as they unfold. Yet it's an oddly unengaging film for anybody familiar with the books. It all looks right - full marks to the design team on this one, the environments are absolutely perfect representations of the book - but the soul and central ideas of Pullman's novel are missing, leaving a gloriously shiny box with nothing inside.

Forget all the noise being made by religious nuts about how this should be boycotted because it makes Jesus cry - that aspect has been all but excised from the script. And that's the major problem with the adaptation; by removing the heart of the story, all you're left with is a story about a girl called Lyra (Richards) with a little pet who has awesome adventures with witches and polar bears. Leaving aside the coring of the very point of the books, it just doesn't work as a straightforward adventure yarn very well either, due to the amount of detail Pullman puts into the books. Anything approaching character development is jettisoned in favour of a 100mph dash through exquisitely designed set pieces, forgoing any attempt to explain why things are happening to this little girl.

You are introduced to Lord Asriel (Craig) who wants to go to the North Pole to explore a world that's opened in the Northern Lights as seen in a moving photograph of some random guy in seal fur. You don't know how this world has appeared, why it's happened to appear in that particular location or who the happy man in the hologram is. Nor do you know why Evil Priest (sorry, we'll call him Generic Villain in keeping with the neutered tone of the film) is so unhappy about James Bond wanting to go explore a magical world in the sky. "This is heresy," he smarms, without you knowing quite why it is. Actually that's not quite true, because the voiceover at the beginning tells you that dust is all around and it's been around longer than the Gyptians of the Oceans (who?), the Witches (Witches?) or the Ice Bears (Ice Bears? Huh?) and that everybody in this world has a daemon that walks alongside them. Our voiceover woman has explained everything - we won't bother to drag the movie down by showing how these different groups are all intertwined. It just is and that's all you need to know.

Imagine The Fellowship of The Ring starting at the Council of Elrond. Why are there midgets with hairy feet? And why is Sharpe arguing with a transsexual from a Timotei advert? Why is Agent Smith wearing spock ears and holding a stick? It's this slapdash hurtling through the story without explanation that hurts the telling of the story the most. No time is spent trying to set anything up except for the initial fifteen minutes. On her quest, Lyra collects a gang comprising of Sam Elliot and Gandalf The Bear, plus some random gypsies and a witch who's pretty tasty with a knife. It really is that random - you're never told why they want to help, how they know each other and how they fit into the story.

So what's good? The effects are superb. Sam Elliot is awesome as always, even if you expect to hear "The Dude abides" from time to time, and the bear fight kicks all kind of ass. The daemons are almost believable, even if relegated to little more than cuddly toys you can buy with a burger meal. And that's about it.

We won't talk about the ending, other than to say you should expect a feeling of befuddlement similar to when Sam and Frodo paddled off in their canoe - that's really it? It's that feeling, even if you have read the books. Viewers new to the story will scratch their heads and think "What the fuck?" whilst fans of the books will be steaming from the ears and hurtling from the cinema to register their unhappiness on the internet as soon as possible.

The Golden Compass is a soulless, pointless and empty exercise in selling cuddly toys that bears little resemblance to the books outside of character names and places. The only people who should be protesting this film are fans of intelligent fiction and movies that take their time to unfold, trusting the audience to be intelligent enough to not need pages of exposition spoon fed to them by drunken bears and Emma Thompson voiceovers.

More:  Fantasy  Family  Action
Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This