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Review: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass
12.03.2007
8 10

Plot: In a world parallel to ours, twelve year old Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is entrusted with a magical Golden Compass that has the power to change the world. The Magisterium- a nefarious organization that seeks to control all of humanity, is determined to obtain the compass at any cost. To that end, they enlist the aid of the mysterious Marissa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), who has her own designs on young Lyra. With her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), missing- Lyra turns to an armored bear warrior named Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen), who becomes her sworn protector.

Review: I’m not overly familiar with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy- but I’ve heard that it has quite a rabid following, and that it’s darker than your run of the mill children’s fare. The Golden Compass is an adaptation of the first book in the series, and if the film does well- the other two will likely follow. New Line Cinema’s obviously put a lot of money into this film- as they hope it’ll be the next Lord of the Rings. Having seen the finished product, I must admit that I’m fairly impressed.

Usually I’m not a huge fantasy buff. Like everyone, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’ve never been a Harry Potter fan, and I skipped The Chronicles of Narnia, Eragon, and any of the other billion fantasy films that have come out in the last couple of years.

For me, what sets The Golden Compass apart from standard fantasy fare are the religious undertones- which have garnered the film a fare share of controversy. Several groups related to the Catholic Church have criticized the film, saying that it promotes Atheism. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a load of hogwash. Granted, author Philip Pullman is an avowed atheist- but this doesn’t really come across in the film. Granted, the evil Magisterium of the film is religious and church-like, but I think what the filmmakers are trying make a statement about is how people everywhere should be free to live their lives as they see fit- free from tyranny, be it religious or political.

The film also boasts a top notch cast, with Nicole Kidman doing nice work in a rare villainous turn as the evil Ms. Coulter. Daniel Craig pops up briefly as Lord Ariel- but he only has about 10 minutes of screen time. I imagine he’ll have a more prominent role in later installments. Young Dakota Blue Richards is likable as young Lyra- which is important as she’s in pretty much every scene of the film. Ian Mckellen is great as the voice of Iorek- Lyra’s Polar bear protector. Iorek is definitely the best character in the film, and the film’s highlight is definitely the climatic battle between Iorek and another armored bear. The fight is actually pretty badass and violent, and is probably the scene that earned the PG-13 rating, as the rest of the film is pretty tame.

Probably my favorite actor in the film is Sam Elliot, who turns up as the gun slinging Lee Scoresby, who aids Lyra in her quest. Elliot is one of my favorite character actors, and he’s terrific in this role. I hope he has more screen time in the sequel.

Also worth mentioning is the film’s terrific production design. The film has a wonderful look, bringing to mind a type of retro- futuristic world which looks extremely impressive on-screen. I also quite liked the musical score by Alexandre Desplat- which doesn’t try to ape Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings’ score, and is pretty original for a film of this type. The only problem with the music is that the film ends with a truly awful pop song that plays over the end credits. I found myself rushing out of the theatre once the credits started so that I did not have to suffer through this absolutely painful ballad that sounded like something out of a bad eighties film.

My only real complaint, cheesy pop ballad aside, is that the film is a little too short. The press kit lists the running time as 114 minutes, but those must have been some long ass credits, as the film itself only ran slightly over an hour and a half. The film zips along pretty fast, so there’s not a ton of time for character development. The film is also seriously heavy on exposition, which is thrown at the audience is such large quantities that’s it’s a little hard to digest at times.

All in all, The Golden Compass is terrific entertainment and a real change of pace for director Chris Weitz, who’s previously best known for comedies like American Pie & About a Boy. I’d definitely recommend the film to anyone looking for some escapist entertainment.

My Grade: 8/10

Source: JoBlo.com

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