Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Movie Review - Golden Compass

Whenever I hear about yet another childhood favorite being turned into a movie, I'm always at least a little scared, if not outright terrified, about how they are going to butcher whichever beloved book they have just turned their sights upon. Fortunately, I am often good at forgetting about the rumours until I actually see a preview - and in the case of the Northern Lights adaptation this was probably a good thing. The preview alone blew me away by creating exactly the right atmosphere and sense of wonder that I experience while reading His Dark Materials trilogy, and the movie itself doesn't disappoint.

One of the biggest problems with book to movie adaptations, is trying to convey all of the subtle information that comes across in the book in a two hour movie. While I can't comment as to how Golden Compass does this from the point of view of someone who hasn't read the books - I found it really interesting that at the start of the movie they gave you a short summery of what the world was about, nothing to do with the plot of the books, just enough so that anyone new to the series would understand what it was that made this world different to our own.

Not that the beautiful buildings, magic flying ships, horseless carriages and little critters everywhere wouldn't give this away. The CG on the movie is fantastic in it's effortlessness, it creates a fascinating world that at the same time inspires a sense of wonder, and is completely believable - to anyone willing to enter the worlds of fantasy at least. The daemons are dealt with particularly well. For those unfamiliar with the series, daemons are essentially the equivalent of having an imaginery friend that is real. Everyone has a daemon, who can change shape until puberty, and who then settles on a form that is somehow appropriate to your personaity and stataion in life. So pause and think for a moment, about how much effort went into giving every single actor in the movie their own little CG pet. The daemons are seamlessly inserted into every scene, and actually quite clever in how they give you little clues about the roles of all the important characters.

The most important character in the movie is obviously the protagonist, a young girl called Lyra. One of the reasons that I am so fond of the this book/movie, is that Lyra is a phenomenal role model for both boys and girls. Loyal, smart and very brave, Lyra is called to demonstrate these qualities over and over again through the movie, and does so without complaining once. She is able to express her fears to her daemon Pan, but that never shakes her resolution about what she has to do.

The actress playing Lyra was a bit older than I expected, and while this changed the character somewhat, it was an acceptable trade off for having someone capable of playing the character of Lyra with the depth it needed. All of the other actors in the movie were fantastic - as you would expect with the number of big names it attracted. This was in some ways a slight disadvantage, because being able to play 'spot the celebrity' broke the realism of the movie a little, but the actors were all so well cast for the roles that they dragged you right back in again. Sam Elliot as Lee Scorseby deserves an honourable mention, because while I had never ever imaged that character as being such a cowboy as soon as I saw him on screen I realised it was perfect, and I will never ever be able to see him any other way.

The last thing that really impressed me about this movie is how close to the books it actually is. I kept waiting for them to change something, to do something that loyal fans would get upset about - but they really didn't. The only changes came towards the end of the movie, and you could see exactly why they changed things the way they did. They even left in parts of the books I was sure they would skip for 'pacing reasons'.

It still ends up a very long movie, and it may seem to jump around a little for people not familiar with the book, but overall I think that it is a wonderful and engaging story matched with awe-inspiring visuals. It may have recieved mixed reviews in the critical press, but I loved it and hopefully you will too.

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At January 3, 2008 at 2:43 AM , Blogger Loki said...

Wow. You've pretty much completely turned me around on this film - I was going to skip it, but your review has me reconsidering :)

At January 3, 2008 at 2:46 AM , Blogger Nicole Canal said...

If you liked the book - you will probably like the movie :D


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