Golden Compass | Chris Weitz, 2007
The “His Dark Materials” trilogy is among one of the best things ever. It is perfectly thrilling, filled with creativity, and has a very important message. When you are reading it, it feels as if you are watching a movie, so then you can’t actually help but wonder what it would actually look like on the big screen. After the success of The Lord of the Rings, New Line tried to continue to capitalize on the fantasy craze that those movies and Harry Potter created by bringing the first book of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy. There was so much great stuff in the source material that there was no way that it could fail. But guess what, it did.
The Golden Compass, like is the first “His Dark Materials” book. It concerns Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a girl who lives in a college in a world where the souls of people are outside their bodies and shaped like animals. One day her Lord Ariel (Daniel Craig) comes to the college to ask for funds for an expedition to be able to travel to other worlds and study Dust (they don’t tell you what it is here). The Magisterium, the group that controls the world, does not want that to happen. But he is given the money. Then Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) comes in the picture and she takes Lyra for an expedition to the north. But she is evil and kidnaps children for evil experiments. So Lyra runs away, joins the Gyptians, hires a bear, and goes to save the children.
In that paragraph I have just given you what the movie is all about and it is as short. That is one of the biggest problems with the movie. I understand that no adaptation will be exactly like the book, but there is so much in the source material that you can’t tell the story without sacrificing some important plot points. And here is where the script failed. It feels like a “For Dummies” version of the story. They take you somewhere, some dialogue is exchanged to explain the situation and that’s that. And the dialogue is not even that good.
Then there is the god-awful direction. Chris Weitz has made one good movie, but that didn’t qualify him for this. The story required someone who would have no trouble with an epic; that understood how to make the things that seem ridiculous work within the context of the story. It needed someone that could actually direct.
Here are some of his bad decitions:
1. The armoured bear fight: In the book, this scene takes just about an entire chapter. It is thrilling and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. And what Iørek does to end the fight actually made say “HOLY SHIT!” out loud during quiet reading time at school. In the movie, it just happens. Iørek goes to the king bear, fights him, knocked off his jaw, and that’s about it. In fact, it was kind of funny.
2. Mrs. Coulter’s job: In the movie we learn right away that she is evil. But in the book, it takes a while for us to learn that and therefore it is even more shocking when we learn that she works for the Magisterium and is the head of the Gobblers.
3. The ending: I cannot tell you how pissed I am about the ending. In the movie we get a cliffhanger, but a happy one. It tells us that things are going to be all right but that is not the way it was supposed to end. The last few chapters in the book are the best part because not only does it have one of the most shocking moments in the entire trilogy, but also it sets up what it is truly about. The scenes were actually shot, but fucking Christ Weitz wanted to leave it in a happy not so that the next movie would start with a bang. Yes, let’s start the movie by killing the kid that that Lyra worked so hard to rescue. Maybe the movie flopped because it ended in a way that it didn’t leave people craving for more.
And along with the awful direction comes an awful production. First off, the editing is horrible. Supposedly it went through many directors because the studio and the director were not happy with a variety of cuts, so they just stuck things together, and it shows. The score is also rather bad. I love Alexandre Desplat, hell he might be the next John Williams. But his score feels out of place and is too soft for this kind of movie. And then there is the art direction. There are times when it is fitting, but it all feels so slick, when it is actually supposed to take place in a world not so different from our own. The cinematography is also bad. Looks too clear and fake, like an Adam Sandler comedy. I mean, Trucker and Once had better cinematography, and the only cost a tiny fraction of what this cost. What the fuck? The same goes for Visual Effects. At least they got the costumes right.
The one thing they got right was the cast, but even then they actors had pretty much nothing to work with and are given very little screen time and bad editing mars their appearances. As for Dakota Blue Richards, she is good and she would have grown into the role, but since this is the only movie she will likely ever be in, I must say that I wasn’t convince by her. When she is interacting with other people she is quite good, but when she is talking to a CGI thing she tends to overact, but again, the crappy editing and shitty visual effects didn’t help. Nicole Kidman is easily the stand out.
And now, the biggest crime of them all: Neither the studio or the writer/director had the balls to make the movie about the story’s true meaning. The trilogy is a story about trying to stop religion and more or less destroying God. Now, I’m not saying that believing in God is wrong, I do believe in him, but religion is pretty much tearing the world apart. The “His Dark Materials” trilogy is as anti-religious as any book could be, and it actually puts up quite a good argument. But since controversy would follow, no one involved with the production wanted to touch the meaning of the story.
It took me about three viewings but now I realize that this movie is a piece of shit. Hopefully in some years someone will be brave enough to tell the story as it should be told in movies of epic lengths or in mini-series format.