The Golden Compass Review

Golden-Compass-ReviewWhen Lord of the Rings became such a smash success, we all knew it was inevitable that the studios would go hunting for other fantasy novel franchises to develop into films. Eragon and Narnia are two such examples… and most figured that The Golden Compass (From the His Dark Materials series) would get done… and sure enough they announced it was coming with none other than Nicole Kidman taking the lead (sort of).

To be honest, with Kidman and Daniel Craig featured so heavily in a fantasy epic movie based on a successful book series, I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with the amount of buzz I’ve sensed for the film. Not as many people talking about it as I would have expected. Personally I haven’t exactly been blown away by the trailers or ads either. Seems the PR companies have been putting more effort into manufacturing fake “controversy” for the movie than they did for the actual marketing campaign. But that’s neither here nor there.


In a parallel universe to our own and thousands of others, another world exists where each person’s soul or spirit walks beside them manifested as an animal spirit or avatar that they call “demons”. This world is ruled by the authority known as “The Magisterium” who are basically the representation of the church (please note, I’m talking about how it is represented in the movie… not the books) who have dictated the world’s understanding of the the universe for centuries. Daniel Craig discovers truths about the universe that directly contradict that teachings of The Magisterium which pits the forces of the authority on a quest to stop Craig from proving his theories.

In the midst of all this, an old artifact, the golden compass, is passed to a young girl who is Craig’s niece. The Compass has to power to show the truth to whoever can read it (problem is that no one can read it… except this child). The girl embarks on a quest to save other children who have gone missing and finds herself caught up and at the very center of a brewing war between the Magisterium and those who stand against them.


Visually the movie is just breathtaking. Everything from the costume, the city streets, the landscapes right down to the interior decorating of the offices and apartments. Such imagination and creativity went into making the world invoke a sense of wonder and awe. They made the world feel so much like our own, and yet so very different.

With each person in the world having their own demon (the animal spirits) you can imagine the screen getting quite cluttered with loads of unnecessary characters (each demon really is its own full personality character). But the film uses them each in a marvelous way… all with their own distinct personalities and designs. The “performances” brought out of each of them was an asset to the film rather than a distraction.

The mythology of the world the movie inhabits was very rich. he Magisterium, the animal spirits, Dust, alternate universes, polar bear warriors, witches… it’s all very vast and creates a wonderful playground for our imaginations to dwell in for a couple of hours. Sometimes fantasy films do a great job of coming up with a solid narrative, but don’t create an imaginative world for the story to live and breath in. Golden Compass succeeds on this level.

The Polar Bears. The nobel warriors in the world completely knocked my socks off. Ian McKellen does a masterful job voicing the mighty Lorek Byrnison, an exiled Bear warrior who joins the young girl on her quest and swears to protect and aid her. His side story was (to me anyway) the very best part of this movie in terms of story AND adventure AND action. Every single moment Lorek is on screen Golden Compass is fun to watch.


Sadly, the CONCEPT of the Magisterium in the film ends up being a lot more fun and interesting that the actual characters themselves. It’s always a shame when movies take a good idea for “bad guys” and just ruin them by making them so over the top “evil” that they end up being just a cheesy annoyance when on screen rather than the commanding presence they should be while instilling a sense of dread or fear. The members and agents of The Magisterium play like they should be wearing a big black top hat, twirling their mustaches while laughing “Muha ha ha haaaaaaa”.

Without question the worst part of this film… is the story telling. No one, no place, no object and no “myth” or “legend” in the film had any soul whatsoever. We are introduced to great concepts or great characters or great stories, but then we are simply whisked away to something else without ever giving any depth or soul to the various elements. We meet John Faa (the King of the Gyptians), but we see nothing of the esence of his character. We just meet him, told who he is, then he has some lines, and he’s then abandoned. Other than Lorek the Bear, no characters in the film have any sort of depth at all, as the film quickly skips ahead without giving any richness to what we’ve seen up to that point. The story of the film was great, the world in which the story is told is perfect…. but the story telling failed. Or to put it another way:

It felt like I was watching the Cliff Notes version of the movie… but it was still 2 hours long.


A beautiful looking film with a rich world, mythology and terrific story, almost spoiled by director Chris Weitz’s inability to tell the story in a compelling or engaging way (which is odd since he did both so well in “About A Boy”). The movie still does entertain on several levels, and there is certainly all the building blocks there for the franchise to improve and build on. In general I liked the movie, but I’ll probably forget about it tomorrow. I give The Golden Compass a 6 out of 10


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