The Golden Compass Movie: Random First Impressions

It is gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Go see it in the biggest theater you can. I loved the settings, every single one of them. The time, thought, care, and money spend on them was worth it. They are spectacular and also perfect for the book. My favorites were the flight to town in the zeppelin and the Far North scenes. Fantastic! I look forward to seeing it again (as I will this Friday with two former students) just to have more time to examine them all. The care taken with creating this world is clear and it was worth it.

The actors are terrific. Dakota Blue Richards is Lyra (although not as grubby as she is in the book). Her accent which some reviewers have complained about worked for me. I liked that it was just a bit gutter-snip, but not too much. After all, Lyra is being raised among scholars. So while she plays with the servants she also is studying with scholars. So it stands to reason that her accent would be a mixture of the two. She comes across just as you want her to — smart, energetic, concerned, and fun. She’s great.

Then what can I say that others haven’t already said about Nicole Kidman? She is all Philip Pullman (who long ago nailed her for the role) could want for one of the most complicated characters in children’s literature — Mrs. Coulter. Gorgeous, chilling, smart, and frightening all at once.

I adored Sam Eliot as Lee Scoresby and Kathy Bates as his daemon Hester (who got the only laugh of the night from the Times Square audience I was with). And Ian McKellen was terrific as Iorek Byrnison. Freddie Highmore also was excellent in the challenging role of Pantalaimon (as it was all voice). Can’t think of a single character who felt miscast. They all looked and sounded right to me.

And that takes me to the special effects. These make the movie. Cheaply done and the movie would be dreadful. But no expense seems to have been spared and it shows. The daemons are great (that golden monkey is scarier than in the book!), the bears beyond wonderful, and I think those involved deserve awards for what they’ve done.

As for the script and directing — I applaud Chris Weitz’s effort. It took a long time to make and I can only imagine how much he had to fight to get it made the way it now is. That said, having to present concisely a lot of information about Lyra’s world, the many characters, and plot points did make the first part of the movie feel a bit disjointed and I could see it being a bit confusing to those unfamiliar with the books. Not that I know how else they could have done it, mind you! But once Lyra leaves Oxford the film picks up and when she gets to the far North — all hell and action breaks out. There are so many wonderful scenes: Lyra and Iorek dashing across the snow, Iorek fighting Iofur Raknison (and Lyra tricking him at Svalbard), Lee in his balloon, the Gyptian craft, and the horrific actions at Bovangar just to name a few. These are all so true to the book and truly wonderful to see and hear.

Can’t say I was wild about the mystical stuff that happened when Lyra consulted the alethiometer, but again I’m no filmmaker. (I also have to note that I hated the tinkly music used for those same moments in the stage version — both were too, too something for my taste. Not that I know what to do instead.) On the other hand I loved the daemons melding with Dust when they died in the battles. That was so cool!

So , all in all, I’m happy. I sure hope Chris gets a chance to make The Subtle Knife. With the basic information in place he would be freed up to really get going with this amazing and wonderful story!



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7 responses to “The Golden Compass Movie: Random First Impressions

  1. Oh, I can hardly wait! I wish it were in Imax theatres! My grandson and his school group are going this Friday, I’m going a week after with our eighth graders and teachers. We got them all copies of the book, and they’re all loving it (it’s on our NC Battle of the Books list for this year).


  2. Pingback: Tiny Treasury » Blog Archive » The Golden Compass controversy

  3. Hurrah! I’m so glad to hear it stays true to the book.


  4. Pingback: Golden Compass Goodies « Shelf Elf: read, write, rave.

  5. Pingback: lis.dom » Blog Archive » no, but I’ve read the book

  6. Dear lord, what a mess the makers and writers made out of this film.

    It started off interesting with hope then very quickly it descended into a mess of re-written scripts TOTALLY different to the book. The scenes themselves looked beautiful but everything else after that was a complete mess. Plots were left unexplained, the reasons for many, many characters existents and actions were not even explained or touched on

    as well as their very actions being completely changed or invented

    totally from thin air! You were left wondering many a time “why is this happening” – “who did that happen?” – “what has this got to do with the story” – what the heck is going on?” and “would someone please explain why ALL of the characters are doing what they are doing? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

    The makers of this film TOTALLY took a meat cleaver to the story. Cut huge and I mean HUGE chunks out, totally twisted scenes around to an unbelievable extent, let characters live that actually die, NEVER explained backgrounds of anything! Leaving out the fact that they rewrote the whole book and made a complete shambles of it, just as a non-reader, many have commented to me in the cinema, on the way out and afterward to this present day (June 2008) the equivalent of “you could tell they pulled the good guts out of it”.

    Dear god, if your going to make a film from a book, stick with the book or make up one of your own completely. Don’t waste our time and your own by buying the rights to a book and then ripping it to shreds and sticking it back together again in an unintelligible mess. What is the point of buying the rights to a book in the first place if your going to totally re-write it (and screw it up in the process too to boot)?

    I understand that the makers were spineless and cowered to the religious nuts by removing anything that made any intelligence to those with brains. The effect of this cowardice left behind a film that was a total waste of time, an insult to the original writer of the book and a waste of talent that should have been used better in a greater film than this mixed, unexplained unmitigated disaster.

    If there is going to be sequels and going by this film, I hope to all heavens there is NOT – can we the audience have a change of makers, scriptwriters and a producer, a director with a brain and at least someone with guts to stand up against the zealous religious right.

    To sum up: what a complete mess and waste of talent.

    This film could have been so, so so much better.

    Rating: one out of ten.


  7. Pingback: Compass points - The Horn Book

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