Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Golden Compass Review

Ok guys, I promise this is my last entry tonight. I just wanted to do my intro to the blog and then get to this. Entries from now on will be far less frequent, but I'll try to keep it updated as I see new things. So today I saw The Golden Compass, and afterwards, I started reading the book. My girlfriend has read the book already, so any comparisons I make between the movie and the book are based on her discussion of it, with the exception of the first 50 pages, which I read earlier tonight.

If you've seen previews for this movie and have a particular expectation in mind, then you're probably going to get more or less what you expected. It's an undeniably fun adventure, and although kids will enjoy it too, I really think it's geared more toward teenagers and adults, simply because it's so much more mature than, say, the Harry Potter series, and only adults will catch a lot of the social commentary, even when it's really explicit.

The story follows a young girl named Lyra who lives in a world similar to ours, but in a parallel universe. Her uncle, Lord Asriel, discovers a connection between universes called Dust and seeks to find a way to travel to these other worlds. Lyra, eager to learn more about all this, is tricked by Mrs. Coulter, who seeks to keep everything a secret in the interest of maintaining order. Lyra ends up on the run in possession of an alethiometer, or golden compass, an object which is known simply as something which tells the truth. Meanwhile, children are disappearing... Oh, and there are kickass giant polar bears in there somewhere.

This story is loaded with social commentary, which was undoubtedly planned from the beginning. It's a parallel universe; how hard can it be to make commentary on our world? Yeah. Even so, I should probably note that as with most movies like this, the controversy over it is absolutely ridiculous. So yeah, back to it, there are a number of references to our governments and religious authorities, with a heavy emphasis on the harmful effects of dogma. So if you're into fantasy with social commentary (Lord of the Rings anyone?) then you'll definitely get it here, both subtly and explicitly.

The problem in the plot comes mostly in transitions. I kept getting the feeling that a lot of the events were too random and arbitrary. I kept asking myself things like "Why would she do that with no good reason?" "Where did they just come from?" and even "How do these characters know each other?" It's really not as huge of an issue as it might sound like, but it is noticeable, less so, I suppose, if you've read the book. The other thing is that unlike in the book, the movie's intro reveals a lot about the world in which the story takes place. As a result, we completely lose the effect of learning what daemons and Dust really are. It's a real disappointment, but people who haven't read the book won't notice. The ending is very weak, even considering that it's only the first of a three part set. I was told that the book ended in a different place, which made for a better ending. It's not without its reason though; having the ending where it is puts the climax in the right place (keeping in mind that some events are out of order from the book).

The acting is surprisingly solid. Nicole Kidman plays a surprisingly convincing Mrs. Coulter, and young Lyra is quite good, aside from a lack of desperation in a few scenes. Some of you will have the same problem I had while watching the movie though: I never got past the fact that James Bond, Count Dooku, Hagrid, and Gandalf were all in the same movie. I couldn't help but wish for the giant polar bear to say "You shall not pass!" The good thing is that that'll make for a good time with friends once the DVD comes out.

The CG effects are great, and the polar bears and daemons look very realistic, with just the right amount of hints of human features. The cinematography and editing are well done, despite some slightly jumpy cuts, although it lacks the gorgeous landscapes of such films as The Lord of the Rings. The soundtrack, likewise, certainly serves its purpose well, but it will never be on par with the best.

Overall, what we have here is a very fun and exciting adventure movie that's at the very least worth going to see. While it's not the greatest work of high fantasy in film, it's miles ahead of all the movies in the Harry Potter series, so if you wanted something on that level but far more mature, then this is it. And if you're more into action than fantasy, see it anyway if only for the fight scene between giant, kickass polar bears. You know you want to. I wouldn't quite recommend it for younger kids, but I think that a lot of adults and teens will get a kick out of it.

Caius's rating: 3.5 stars

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