Guess what everyone? Hollywood has made another big-budget Blockbuster and it’s based on a book. Why, of course, it’s based on a book silly. The Golden Compass is an unexpectedly interesting flick that showed a lot of promise but in the end falls short of being a memorable film. Some of my problems with the film might just stem from my own personal issues but other problems are, unfortunately for The Golden Compass, more weighted.
As for my personal “beefs” well enough already with British children saving the world, I mean seriously. How much more of this do we, the audience, have to stomach. Could the message be any blunter? I for one don’t believe it is solely the responsibility of British children to bail our collective butts out of the fire. Every time one turns around there is some movie being pushed down our collectively raw throats about a British kid being the only one to save the world and most of these films, like The Golden Compass, are aimed at children around the world. Uncool-film industry, uncool.
So you have that much of the plot-another freakin’ British kid must save the world. But this time, it’s even bigger than that, as this particular British girl must save the entire universe and all parallel universes from an evil, repressive religious group called the Magisterium who suppresses knowledge of all kinds. Gee, I wonder where the inspiration for this comes from?
There is much to enjoy and admire in The Golden Compass, however. The concept of one’s soul being repressed as a sort of interactive spirit animal, while borrowing rather obviously from the Native Americans and others, is still a fun mechanism to play with and is well used. The core story of Lyra being given the powerful Golden Compass and the adventure that this ensures keeps ones attention, but is also a problem in and of itself. Too much happens in The Golden Compass. Characters are not explained nor developed, and it is clear that there was enough material to split this film in half. The Golden Compass could have benefited tremendously from better exploration of its core themes and characters as many of the films ideas are, in fact, worthy of exploration.
Another major flaw of the film is that for all its undercurrents of reason and progressive thought, the core story falls back on clichés, small minded ideas and whiffs of the nepotism and inherited/genetically innate ability, as our young heroian Lyra is, of course, from an important and special family as well. How many more times, must we see that?
All the substantial criticism aside it is too bad, in a sense, that we may not see sequels to The Golden Compass. The film tackles religious repression in a novel way and this clearly scared many away from the film as the media pushed the “anti-religion themes” of the film strongly just before the opening. I watched numerous reports on major news outlets that had text headlines on the screen all the lines of “Golden Compass Anti-Religion?” during the debates and discussions of the film. By now we all should know what that question mark means.
Even if parents weren’t totally convinced that the film would damage little Joey’s fragile brain, they were apparently scared away, which is impressive considering the film starred Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee among others. Yet despite all that precious starpower, which usually works very well on US audiences, The Golden Compass failed to life up to domestic expectations. The story was very different overseas, as The Golden Compass earned around $300 million dollars, perhaps Europeans parents are less fearful of ideas? Perhaps they feel that their children’s faith is so remarkably strong that it can withstand exposure to a variety of ideas, who is to say?
There are real problems with the film, ranging from pacing and cramming too much into the film, to the ridiculously abrupt ending, to the selection of Chris Weitz as director. Who made that call? Chris Weitz? The same guy who directed American Pie and About a Boy, good films but this is who you get to direct a massive CG laden flick? Your lucky things went as well as they did Hollywood studio.
Story B- (Lots of nice ideas and concepts, but underdeveloped characters abound, and the entire film seems to rushed.)
Originality/Innovation B (The originality of the film is sapped by the decision to fall back on silly clichés.)
Enjoyability Grade B
Home Theater/HD Factor A
Overall Grade B- (The abrupt ending really hurts the film and Chris Weitz as the director-come on now.)