THE GOLDEN COMPASS



I very rarely walk out of films. I always feel that you should give the director the benefit of the doubt and see the work in its entirety. However, I only saw half of this adaptation of the Philip Pullman book and pretty much had the sense that this was a lost cause for me. I was enthralled by the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. They were a lively, refreshing and exciting set of books with a central character, Lyra, that provided the necessary identification in the midst of a story that as Pullman says 'is about killing God'.

The film looks wonderful. The parallel world Oxford and the journey to Norway were beautifully designed and presented. The visual effects again were excellent, the main characters' 'daemons' (souls in animal form) and the polar bears all stunningly realised, the airships and landscapes equally brilliant. It's got a great cast and a charismatic young actress playing the lead.

But it lacks any cinematic imagination. It's a dull plod through a very fractured version of the original story and I felt that anyone not aware of the books might find it puzzling and baffling as there is not enough in the way of logical building blocks to make you relate to the story or the characters. The concept of the daemons is barely sketched in and their precious importance to their owners isn't explained at all. Several characters in the book (Farder Coram, Serafina Pekkla and Lord Asriel) are reduced to cyphers and barely make an impression on the story. And that's a shame because the director ends up wasting a great collection of British thesps and new talent like Eva Green. To me it feels as if the director is simply trying to get from one plot point to another to survive the experience and has forgotten to imbue any of it with a spark of life.

Looking back at the troubled history of the production, to me it is clear that Chris Weitz was not the right director for this. He'd already abandoned the production only to replace his replacement and he had allegedly feared that he wasn't up to the job. Weitz bravely tries to marshall all the elements here and does retain some of the anti-religion theme of the book but with the best will in the world his efforts lack clarity and scenes just seem to tumble one after another without any real dramatic climaxes. The narrative doesn't peak at all where it should. The plot is crushed into a short running time that would imply a briskly edited high stakes adventure but it comes over with the opposite effect with scenes dragged out in a single monotone and no one character given the breathing space to affect the story. Words leave the mouths of the actors and you are literally moved on to the next scene without any consideration.

Apparently, the ending is also disappointing in that it drops the original tragic close of the book and opts out of the story at an earlier juncture to provide a 'happy' ending. Glad I wasn't around to witness that as it would have added further fuel to the fire. I'm baffled as to how a spirited, often controversial, fantasy was reduced to this very pale, barely animated, cinematic doppleganger.

A real disappointment.


The Golden Compass (Cert PG - Released 5th December 2007. Directed by Chris Weitz)

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