I finally saw Golden Compass, the film based on the His Dark Materials trilogy. Let me get the first bits out of the way. The book is way better. If you loved the book, you will be mostly disappointed in this film because so much is left out, much of it essential. In order to condense the film into the allotted time, they’ve left out details that make the film a bit disjointed and confusing.
Secondly, the book is an anti-religion tirade that is a thinly disguised diatribe against the Vatican — a well-deserved target. The film loses all the anti-religion bits and that does take away some impact. The Magesterium becomes a political group instead. There are some allusions the die-hard fans will see, but it will be mostly transparent to the typical viewer.
First, Nicole Kidman is awesome as Mrs. Coulter. Chews up her scenes in a good way and pretty much is everything I could hope for in the role. Newcomer Dakota Blue Richards will be famous one day. She’s a very good actress in this, her debut as Lyra the slightly churlish rascal, the lead in the film. There is a very quick cameo by Christopher Lee as well. Ian McKellen voices Iorek Byrnison, the polar bear.
The film is paced far too quickly, and many viewers would be confused about how the Golden Compass itself works or even the WHY of it. There was just too much cut out to make this film work and be the hit it should have been. Sure, it’s much better than Narnia because there’s none of the horribly wooden acting. All the kid actors are tolerable at worst and magnificent at best.
The details omitted also include the complex intertwining of the person and their daemon (soul) which is key to making you even care about anyone in the film. The adults’ dialogue is often stiff, but a lot of that may be because you don’t understand the characters or the nationalities because they just aren’t developed at all.
The visual aspect of the film is stupendous, especially the world itself. It shimmers and glows and feels very real. But some key scenes like Bolvangar are rushed to the point of sheer idiocy.
They screwed it up and I’m irritated, yet somehow I encourage you to see it nonetheless.