Last Saturday, I went to go see the movie adaptation of what is the first part in the best story of the year (except LOST’s third season), The Golden Compass. I devoured the books, loved them, hated them, and went completely along this emotional roller coaster ride through different worlds. So, with high expectations which I tried to repress, I went to go see the movie, which came out last week.
And, just like most movie adaptations of complex novels, it’s pretty much a mixed bag. This is one of those rare occasions where I would wish that they had shown us less plotline, and a bit more in-depth analysis. And that is my greatest critique: the whole thing felt unbelievably rushed. Oxford! London! Ship! North! gyptians! Witches! Bears! Everything came by at the speed of light, slapping new characters and locations in your face; characters which were not always needed either (one of them wasn’t even in the first book yet). Everything came by, but nothing really stuck around – there was just too much info being told.
I reckon the creators tried to fix this problem with the thing I dread most in movie history: the one-line-in-between-of-scenes-recap. “Oh Pan, we have got to go to Bolvangar and save Roger the kitchenboy who was taken prisoner by the Gobblers which are led by Mrs. Coulter and then bring the Alethiometer – or the Golden Compass – to Lord Asriel,
who is my uncle but not really my uncle!” Oh, the horror, the horror.
And I lied, oh I lied. The above wasn’t the worst part of the movie. The part where they left out the showdown between Lord Asriel and Lyra, that’s actually quite a bit worse. And believe it if you will, it gets even more unforgiving from my side: apparently, all those parts of the movie were intended to be in it. In fact, they were shot! But hey, it’s Christmas: people don’t want no sad ending. They want a happy ending with no message, no sense, no cohones whatsoever. My AUTHORITY!
I did like the way the religious undertone of the book (which as actually not that obvious in the first part) got neutered. The only trace – a chat between Coulter and Lyra about “the authority” and “impurity” – felt like a blissful insider. Really, I don’t think I would mind if the movies stayed this way: leaving the religion as a bit of information for people who read the books. Then stupid people would have no reason to shout heresy were there is none.
I’m sorry for sounding a bit harsh – I did really like the movie. There are so many things done perfectly right. For example: the cast was simply wonderful. All of them were great actors, and Dakota (who played Lyra) simply rocked. Too bad Daniel Craig’s best scene got cut out – making you wonder what he still had to do with the plot – but when he was around, he was all about kicking ass and taking names. The daemons were credible, as well. Not astonishing, mind you – the execution of an etherial, poetic concept is always a bit dumbed down when put into movie – but still well done. Esther (Lee’s hare) was great, as was Pan, who made an exceptionally cute bobcat. The golden monkey was more like a golden collectible wookie statue, though – totally unlike the cuddly bear ready to rip out your guts, not scary at all (especially when compared to Nicole Kidman).
The bottomline: go watch this, but prepare to be annoyed. And then some more.