‘The Golden Compass’ [review]


“Better than the Chronicles of Narnia”December 3rd 2007

Going into this, my friend’s doubts gave me doubts. What if the film is all hype and no substance? What if it’s nothing but under developed plot, and not entertaining in the least? Well, my questions were answered emphatically and undoubtedly. This is certainly the ‘mystical-fantasy’ film of the year. With great performances, decent writing, cool action and beautiful techs, this film almost had it all.

The director Chris Weitz hadn’t done fantasy until now. Even before, my opinion of him was iffy to begin with. With the only other film I’d seen of his being Down to Earth. I didn’t think he’d have the vision to interpret this fantastical-epic properly. Sadly, I’d partially agree with my premonition. He did a good job for a fair part with the material he adapted, but it felt uneven at times. The action was built up to very well. So there weren’t many random acts of violence diverting your attention from the plot. Overall a relatively well directed film. If Weitz happens to direct the rest of the trilogy (it is a trilogy, isn’t it?), hopefully he will fix the mistakes he made in this one.Onto the screenplay, adapted by Chris Weitz. Overall, the script wasn’t solid to begin with. Some cheesy dialog led to my friend and I finding ‘sexual innuendo’ to the point of extreme laughter. He and I were not the only people in the audience laughing. There were parents – both male and female – laughing as loud as we were. Along with this were lame lines; both cliche and laughable. However, with this comes some very interesting character development. Twists, turns, cool characters and well written monologues. Again, if a sequel is made, hopefully the same will apply to the producers of the film. Meaning they will fix this ‘mistake’ by casting a better writer. If the film was written better, it could’ve been more memorable than Harry Potter. Sadly, it was not.

The acting of this film was great. From fair child performances to great, lively performances from smaller characters. Acting wise, it had it all.On a very small note; I really liked the voice over performances. Ian McKellen stole the show as “Iorek Byrnison; the main ‘armored’ bear. He was simply astonishing. His voice fit the role perfectly, and gave one of the most fierce performances I’ve ever heard. Ian McShane was “Ragnar Sturlusson“; the king of the armored bears. Though a short lived role, he was very good as well. His chemistry with McKellen was great, even though they never saw each other, emoted with each other, or anything like that. Finally Freddie Highmore was a great choice for “Pantalaimon” was a great choice for Lyra’s daemon. His voice fit Lyra’s personality so well. The quirkiness and childishness of it all was great. Really added another layer to Lyra.

Daniel Craig plays “Lord Asriel. Sadly, had a small role. Way smaller than expected. He did well with his time on screen, but deserved more. He stole all the scenes he had. Whether it be with Dakota, Christopher Lee or anybody else. He simply made them look bland in comparison. I’d of rather seen more of his journey, opposed to a lot of dribble with the ‘detention center’.

Eva Green plays “Serafina Pekkala” (try to say that name… once). For some reason going into the movie I thought she’d be a badguy. Not only is she a good person in the movie, but also the most explosive. She captured the role perfectly, and in doing so, captured the audience. This isn’t entirely related to the film, but her talent is matched only by her powers. Wonderful actress, and I’m glad she’s coming into the spotlight more. With this, her second feature starring both her and Daniel Craig. Coincidence? I think not.

Sam Elliot was great as “Lee Scoresby“. I didn’t even know what his character was in the film, until I saw it. I had a brief idea of the ‘main’ characters, so his presence really caught me off guard. Loved his character. He plays the role very well and is reminiscent of his character in Thank You for Smoking. Just add being more mystical, and you’ve got him in a nutshell.

Nicole Kidman did a great job as usual. She portrays “Marisa Coulter“; the woman that takes Lyra with her to see the north. I don’t exactly get her buzz for this performance. She did a better job with the material than the material allowed; I’ll give her that. But considering the competition (in my eyes), she shouldn’t be highly considered for a nomination at all. Though she’d probably squeeze into my top ten for the category. It was basically a rehash of her performance in The Invasion, put in a different context. Not taking anything way from that performance at all either. Both are great.

Onto the star of the film, Dakota Blue Richards. She did a fairly good job in her role as “Lyra Belacqua“. I didn’t expect much considering she’s a new ‘child’ star. Expecting another Ferland would’ve been naive indeed. At times her deliveries of dialog were laughable, but not often enough to call the performance bad. Throughout the film she shows many strengths and many weaknesses. Both are very noticeable; sadly more so with the latter. With two more films to come, hopefully she can hone in on her strengths and create a rounder performance next time.

This is a film that was very dependent on it’s technical aspects. Fortunately, the ‘effects’ team really pulled through on this one. Making it not only a joy to look at, but also stare at the screen in awe; thanks to the wonderful craftsmanship.The film editing was very good. The transitions were wonderful. As were the ‘truth-scopes’. A lot of fancy ideas were thrown around for this section. Sadly, the pacing was off, and really hurt the film as a whole. I would’ve loved to give the movie nominations for the creative ideas, but cannot because of the big flaw in pacing.

The score by Alexandre Desplat was good. Nothing too special, in my opinion. This was mainly due to it sounding a lot like his score for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium – just more epic. I do not know which one he composed first, but that is irrelevant, because a true composer shouldn’t rehash their material and hope for the best. His work on this film was good enough for me to not be annoyed by the repetitiveness, so I cannot really complain too much about it. Hopefully he’ll be more inspired for his future compositions.

The sound was great. The sparkling sound of dust falling. The gunshots. The roars of bears. Everything was just well executed; both realistically and fanatically. The sound crew really knew what they were doing on this picture.

The art direction was wonderful. A beauty to look at. From elegant board rooms, to the plain interior of detention centers; the film had it all. A lot of wonderful choices for some scenes really made the setting one to remember. It was also well used in the fact it set moods perfectly as well.

The costume design, alike the art decoration, was excellent. From prestgious dresses to tattered clothing; the film had it all. It was nice to see modern stuff mixed in with witch wardrobe and fancy tuxedos. It just gave the movie a nice feel to it.

The best aspect of the film was easily the cinematography. It was simply put : astonishing. At first, I thought the film would only have a few beautiful scenes, and I wouldn’t have to bother with replacing anything from my top ten in the category with it. Unfortunately, it was wonderful. A true eye opener. The light and dark was used very well symbolically. As well as just looked gorgeous. Fantastic work by Henry Braham. Hope they keep him on slate to photograph the rest of the films.

Nominations for The Golden Compass
Best Cinematography – (#4)
Best Art Direction – (#3)
Best Costume Design – (#3)

3 Nominations and 0 Wins

Rating : 8/10


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