a critiQal film review The Golden Compass (2007)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: In an alternative world, Lyra (Richards), a 12-year-old girl, starts out trying to rescue a friend who's been kidnapped by a mysterious organization known as the Gobblers - and winds up on an epic quest to save not only her world, but ours as well.

771 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 51s)

Having never read the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman, we didn’t know quite what to expect from The Golden Compass. While the preview looked decently exciting, with it’s talking animals and fighting armored polar bears, there was one main reason we didn’t go see this film in theaters…and his name is Daniel Craig.

After the disappointment of having pock-faced Craig picked as the new Bond, then having to sit through the atrocity that was , I for one couldn’t imagine paying the big bucks to see any movie with him in it. No matter how good it may look in previews, he would probably end up making it atrocious.

Now that The Golden Compass has hit DVD, however, I was much less reluctant to see it – and since we visited our local Blockbuster armed with a free movie rental coupon, I could rent the film without any qualms about wasting money on it.

Would my fears go unfounded, and The Golden Compass would turn out to be something I would regret not seeing on the big screen, or would Daniel Craig’s appearance make me glad I hadn’t actually spent any money renting this dud?

Dakota Blue Richards picks up the reigns for The Golden Compass as it’s young first-time star, and turns in a decent – if slightly irritating – performance. While she manages to make it through her scenes without any real bungling, she doesn’t have any sort of on-screen presence either.

Thankfully, the filmmakers thought ahead a bit on this one, and provided themselves with a backup plan. If their young star’s presence isn’t being felt, interject some well-versed actors to take up the spotlight, and use your main character as more of a foil for these more versatile actors.

Surprisingly, not much of this spotlight is directed at Daniel Craig. Instead, he puts in a couple of brief appearances, then disappears from the screen (although his character is spoken about quite a bit, the viewer only has to suffer brief glimpses of him for the rest of the film).

Instead, the spotlight is focused mostly on Nicole Kidman, whose character is highly reminiscent of the old wicked witch characters in every way – except appearance, of course. Despite her “wicked witch” persona, Nicole Kidman squeezes herself into some tight form-fitting clothing and sashays her way onto the screen.

Unfortunately, those tight fitting clothes seem to have affected her performance, as she comes off less impressive than usual. She still manages to capture the spotlight in the scenes she’s in, but it’s
with less of a commanding presence than viewers are used to from this veteran actress.

The real scene-stealers appear later in the film: Sam Elliott as a wise-beyond-his-years “aeropilot” named Scoresby and Ian McKellen as the commanding voice of Iorek, one of the armored polar bears. Elliot’s easy charm and kindhearted personality help the viewer form an immediate attachment to his character, while Ian’s recognizable voice is able to humanize the bear without making him any less forbidding. These two steal every scene of The Golden Compass they are in, and make at least their sequences entirely enjoyable.

While the storyline of The Golden Compass is easy enough to follow at it’s base, the film tries to toss too many new character groups at it’s audience for them to even try to keep up. By the time the filmmakers have introduced the Gyptians (not even halfway into the film), the viewer is already beginning to get confused over all the character names, and so have started distancing themselves a bit from the film.

This distancing makes the special effects, while impressive, seem much less spectacular. Although the viewer never once wonders if what they’re seeing on screen is real or just special effects, they also don’t care as much as they would have if they were more engrossed in the film. Without this distancing, the fights would have more of an impact and the whole film would have more tension. With it, the film seems a bit dull with only occasional sparks that keep the viewer from giving up on the film entirely.

All in all, The Golden Compass has a lot of potential, but unfortunately, never really lives up to most of it. With too many characters clouding up the viewer’s field of vision, the viewer quickly loses interest in the film, only really coming back occasionally for Nicole Kidman. The inclusion of Sam Elliott and Ian McKellen’s scene-stealing performances helps the viewer stick through to the end, but even they can’t raise this film up to be what it should have been.

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