The Golden Compass (2007)

Review by:
Bill Clark

Reviewed by:
On December 6, 2007
Last modified:July 3, 2014


This series has promise, but The Golden Compass is a letdown.

The Golden Compass (2007)

It’s a terrible feeling as a viewer when you can see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making a movie – and the end result is indifference and disappointment. Such is the case with The Golden Compass, an adaptation of the first entry of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. All $150 million of the budget leaps off the screen, but the storytelling and pacing leaves much to be desired and ultimately renders the film as “just another entry” into the already-overloaded canon of fantasy films.

We meet young Lyra Belacqua (Blue Richards) as the film opens. A young girl amongst a host of scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College, Lyra lives in the kind of world where souls take on the form of physical specimens and there are multiple known universes. One day she overhears a conversation pertaining to a mythical particle: Dust. A pest to most of us around the house, this Dust has the power to unite worlds. Certain forces that be, however, have no interest in such a notion. Lyra and her friends begin the conquest to the great North in search of the Dust, all the while being chased by villains of all kinds – and worlds.

For a film that’s being marketed to children it sure has a lot of pitch black themes, intertwining story lines, and a fair amount of violence (albeit bloodless). The central problem here is that there is hardly any coherence to the plot and absolutely no pacing is established by director Chris Weitz. One can’t help but feel like this project was pushed to meet the holiday demand for a new fantasy franchise and, judging by its conclusion; this has big plans to be a franchise.

It’s really a shame, because the special effects are nothing short of astonishing. The central showcase, a battle between two armored polar bears, is an absolute feast for those in search of envelope-pushing CGI. There is a certain video game quality to the whole thing that pulled me out of several sequences, but this is as good of CGI as we’ve seen all year.

The performances are solid, for the most part. Dakota Blue Richards, making her acting debut, literally carries the film herself as Lyra. She has a wonderful delivery and often strikes the sense of wonder that any of us would if we were talking to a battle-ready polar bear. Nicole Kidman is in full-on Cruella De Vil-mode and is, surprisingly, not given a whole lot to do. Weitz’s screenplay never really lets her be truly mean, but rather a perfectly-groomed snob. Daniel Craig gets limited screen time, but I have a feeling he’ll be playing a larger part in later films. Sam Elliott also pops up as the film’s comic relief playing, well, Sam Elliott.

For as much as it has going for it, The Golden Compass is a largely uneven experience that could have benefited greatly from a few more edits and more effective consolidation of the storyline. The film certainly has themes that will fly right over kids’ heads, but they will dig the eye candy. There’s no doubt that the second entry of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, is in the works, but let’s hope the filmmakers are given time to settle down and flesh out the storyline accordingly. This series has promise, but The Golden Compass is a letdown.


Studio: New Line Cinema
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence.
Theatrical Release: December 7, 2007
Directed by: Chris Weitz
Written by: Chris Weitz. Based upon the novel by Philip Pullman.
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Ben Walker, Freddie Highmore (voice), Ian McKellen (voice)




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One Comment

  1. Dear lord, what a mess the makers and writers made out of this film.

    It started off interesting with hope then very quickly it descended into a mess of re-written scripts TOTALLY different to the book. The scenes themselves looked beautiful but everything else after that was a complete mess. Plots were left unexplained, the reasons for many, many characters existents and actions were not even explained or touched on

    as well as their very actions being completely changed or invented

    totally from thin air! You were left wondering many a time “why is this happening” – “who did that happen?” – “what has this got to do with the story” – what the heck is going on?” and “would someone please explain why ALL of the characters are doing what they are doing? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

    The makers of this film TOTALLY took a meat cleaver to the story. Cut huge and I mean HUGE chunks out, totally twisted scenes around to an unbelievable extent, let characters live that actually die, NEVER explained backgrounds of anything! Leaving out the fact that they rewrote the whole book and made a complete shambles of it, just as a non-reader, many have commented to me in the cinema, on the way out and afterward to this present day (June 2008) the equivalent of “you could tell they pulled the good guts out of it”.

    Dear god, if your going to make a film from a book, stick with the book or make up one of your own completely. Don’t waste our time and your own by buying the rights to a book and then ripping it to shreds and sticking it back together again in an unintelligible mess. What is the point of buying the rights to a book in the first place if your going to totally re-write it (and screw it up in the process too to boot)?

    I understand that the makers were spineless and cowered to the religious nuts by removing anything that made any intelligence to those with brains. The effect of this cowardice left behind a film that was a total waste of time, an insult to the original writer of the book and a waste of talent that should have been used better in a greater film than this mixed, unexplained unmitigated disaster.

    If there is going to be sequels and going by this film, I hope to all heavens there is NOT – can we the audience have a change of makers, scriptwriters and a producer, a director with a brain and at least someone with guts to stand up against the zealous religious right.

    To sum up: what a complete mess and waste of talent.

    This film could have been so, so so much better.

    Rating: one out of ten.

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