The Golden Compass

Mike Grist Book / Movie Reviews Leave a Comment


I’d heard from various reports that this movie wasn’t good, so my expectations were already lowered, but still it completely underwhelmed. It had none of the dread of the book. None of the ominous thick sense of foreboding. It was by the numbers, over-lit, over clean, overly orchestrated garbage.

What a shame. The book is amazing. The book evokes real emotion. I don’t remember precisely, but in the book I feel we follow Lyra fairly exclusively. It is the world from her point of her view. And so- it is a world full of mystery, intrigue, deception, and also with black terror and evil deeds.

The movie is scatter-shot. The bad guys are carbon copies. The bad deeds are over-played and under-effective. The terror completely fails to materialize. And all the rich complexity of Dust, of Original Sin, is lost in a cartoon-ish rendering of the Magisterium, the Gobblers, and the Cutter.

The effects were shoddy. Really shoddy- blatantly unreal. Their juxtaposition with real actors really took away from any sense of wonder I’d hoped to generate. Every outfit was too clean. Every set too sharp and delineated, with no clutter, no sense of being lived in. Every contour too stark and simple.

I didn’t believe in it. Did they actually spend money on this film? On what, I wonder? The effects in TV shows like BSG are more realistic. Not once did I feel awed by anything I saw. They just gave it all to us on a platter. Here’s Oxford, whoop. Here’s how the alethiometer works, whoop. Here’s the bad guys, here’s Bolvangar (very nicely lit, and clean!). Here’s that damn monkey.

The music was cheap orchestral pap. Rising at every moment it ‘should’ rise at. Playing low and menacing to show us things were low and menacing, because from the words the actors spoke and the colors and lighting, those things were not clear.

Exposition! Too much exposition. And yet, not enough. What the hell was going on in this movie? Was there anything to care about? Exposition on stupid things that aren’t important or we can infer, with nothing on the important things. What are these witches doing? Nothing important. What about these Gyptians? Nothing important.

Costumes, dress, music, effects, sets, plot, structure, acting, makeup, battle scenes. It felt like a by-the-numbers movie made on a cheap budget for British television. It felt like one of the poorer episodes of Dr. Who (which is, to be honest, most of them).

The only single redeeming feature was the actress playing Lyra. She was the only good thing in it. But some of the lines the poor thing had to spout? Nonsense gibberish. Completely unnatural. And her speech at the end? Come on!

Did anyone on this production even read the book? Perhaps they gave it a cursory glance, but they certainly didn’t understand it. They transliterated the major events to film but with none of the feeling. None of the spirit, wonder, or dread of the book is present in this movie. It’s a shoddy farce that fails on every level. What a shame.

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