WARNING: Contains Major Plot Spoilers…
I went to see The Golden Compass film tonight on its second day of general release here in the UK. The first thing to say was that the cinema wasn’t exactly packed, with precisely 8 people present at the 8.45pm showing me and my girlfriend attended. It WAS raining (this is the UK after all), and it’s a relatively small cinema, but I still thought that was a pretty bad early sign.
This review is somewhat tempered by the fact that I am a massive fan of the book its based on, and that has obviously skewed my view of the film, but I will try to be fair regardless.
From the early scenes you can tell that this is going to be a rushed film, as a lot of book to movie translations tend to be. After all, visually showing the passage of time is a lot more difficult to pull off than writing it.
The Daemons are well realised, and as I imagined them from reading the book. The casting is also pretty much spot on, with Nicole Kidman being perfect for Mrs Coulter, and Ian McKellen doing a fine job as Iorek Byrnison. I wasn’t too sure about Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua, as the character is the driving force of the trilogy, and I think she struggled at times to pull off the monumental performance which was needed.
Some of the special effects are stunning, with the armoured bears particularly standing out. In fact the Iorek part of the story, his relationship with young Lyra, and his brutal fight to become king of Svalbard, was the highlight of the film for me, and stopped the whole thing being a huge disappointment.
There were some massive alterations from the book to the movie, some which I could understand, and some I could see no rhyme nor reason for. Even the ordering of the story is altered substantially, and huge blocks of time are left out. To people who haven’t read the book, this won’t matter a jot, and the film will probably leave them content. For fans of the book however, there are some glaring omissions, the biggest being the fudged ending.
The book ends with a revelation (some elements of which are discussed during the film), the death of a main character, and a cliffhanger of epic proportions. That is all left out of the film, and instead we get a cutesy happy ending where no-one dies, and they all sail off in to the sunset. A nice safe ending for the 12 year olds in the audience, but one which leaves everyone else thinking “Is that it?”
And that’s the main problem with this film, although it does plenty right, and kept me entertained for two hours, there’s too many moments where I was disappointed, or even upset at the compromises.
As for the controversy surrounding the film and it’s supposed anti-religious overtones, well the church is never actually named, but it’s pretty obvious by placement of religious garments, and church-like architecture that that is who is being parodied.
The thing is, the film is more about having free will, and the freedom to choose how to live your life without being dictated to by people in control or supposed authority, than Catholic bashing any day, so don’t believe everything you read.
As the characters of the film put their efforts in to securing free will, so should the film makers have fought for the same rights to express Pullman’s creative vision, no matter how many groups were going to try and stop them.
If the makers of the film think they toned down the anti-religious leanings of the film compared to the book, then I have to say I found some passages of the dialogue in the movie harsher than anything written in the book. Philip Pullman’s style of delivery is obviously more subtle than Chris Weitz’ screenplay.
I would actually recommend The Golden Compass to people who have never read the book more than to those who are loyal fans.