Tuesday, December 11, 2007
THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007) - Chris Weitz
Since the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, studios have been falling over themselves to release movies that capture the magic that Peter Jackson’s movies did so well. To the studios, these movies bring in mega bucks since they’re aimed at the family, the most lucrative of cinema audiences. To this end, they find any piece of fantasy fiction and immediately rush it into production. Unfortunately, the time and care that Jackson put into The Lord of the Rings isn’t always applied to these other movies, and the resulting films always seem to lack something. And this is blatantly apparent in Chris Weitz adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel, Northern Lights. Or The Golden Compass, as the movie is known.
The Golden Compass takes Pullman’s incredibly popular novel, the first his ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, and translates it to the big screen. Dealing with many different (and in some places, controversial) themes, this first movie concentrates on a precocious little girl named Lyra Belacqua. Lyra lives in a parallel universe to our own. A universe where peoples’ souls accompany them in the form of a animal who can communicate, and lives in harmony with his or her human counterpart. Lyra attends Jordan College. After her uncle, a scientist named Lord Asriel leaves for an expedition to investigate the possibility of parallel universes, Lyra comes into possession of an alethiometer, or golden compass which can answer any question Lyra cares to ask it. This alethiometer is something the Magesterium, the overlords wish to possess. To this end, they send Mrs. Coulter to take Lyra away from Jordan. Lyra doesn’t trust Mrs. Coulter and escapes her. She sets off to find her lost friends, who have been taken by Gobblers, who’s sinister plans put the entire world in peril.
That is basically the plot of the Golden Compass. Sounds kind of convoluted, doesn’t it? And in a way, it is. It’s not a difficult film to follow, but there’s a lot to take in. And the plot is fired at the audience so fast that you cant help but feel the film is an incredibly rushed effort. I’ve heard some great things about Pullman’s Dark Materials books, and I do intend to read them. This film really didn’t put me off doing that. However, it’s a badly made film.
As mentioned, the plot is incredibly rushed through. Events pass at a pace that makes you want to shout out at everybody to slow down for a moment at take a breath. But this isn’t a good thing. Everything seems skirted over. And to that end, there’s no sense of dread of events that are perilous for the world. Nothing seems incredibly important, and you just feel that things just keep happily falling into place. Characters pop into the story, and just seem to join Lyra on her quest for no other reason but having nothing better to do. And this is the major flaw of The Golden Compass. Things happen too fast and too easily with no sense of peril if things go wrong.
The direction, from Weitz, who (with his brother, Paul) struck box office gold with American Pie and the surprisingly good About A Boy, seems out of his depth. At moments, the camera makes bizarre swoops and the action cuts to odd angles, and it seems that Weitz is doing this just to add the feeling of something epic to otherwise small worldly events. The pace of the film is bizarrely slow for a film where events pass so quickly, and you will, at moments, find yourself very, very bored. The special effects aren’t bad. I mean, for a film of this magnitude, you’d expect the special effects to be spiffy, and while they’re not groundbreaking by any measure, they’re not terrible. As with the rest of the film, they’re just spectacularly mundane.
The acting isn’t terrible. Dakota Blue Richards (who sounds like some sort of country and western singer) isn’t as bad an actress as the trailer for the movie made her out to be. However, her character is incredibly smug and irritating. I don’t know if she is like this in the book, but in this film, you cant help but find yourself wishing, at moments, that she’d just lose! Daniel Craig pops up for about 6 minutes of screen time as Lord Azriel, and while he’s perfectly acceptable in the role, he has little to nothing to do. Nicole Kidman is in ice-queen mode as Mrs. Coulter. As with most of her roles, Kidman is pretty bland. This, I expect, is the point of the role. But for the film’s ‘bad guy,’ you just don’t detest her enough for her to make an impact. Sam Elliot is really imaginatively cast as an American gun-slinger cum airship pilot. And Sir Ian McKellan resurrects his Gandalf voice for his role as Iorek Byrnison, an ice-bear prince who dedicates his life to Lyra. Oh yeah, Eva Green pops up for a moment as a witch who you feel should be more consequential to the plot, but isn’t. There are other cameos from famous names such as Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee, but again, their roles are pretty pointless.
The most disappointing thing about The Golden Compass is that you know there’s something to the story. The source material must be jam-packed with glorious detail. I’ve heard wonderful things about the books and I do look forward to them. But the film is stripped of all this. It just all seems rather pointless. And having heard there are themes of atheism that really got the Christians railed up, my interest is piqued even more. However, all this controversial material is removed from the film, and what is left is a really bland, uninspiring, and ultimately boring family film.