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Thoughts on the Golden Compass.

I caught The Golden Compass on Sunday morning. It was a midnight show, and by the time the lights had dimmed and the beer ads were rolling1, I was already nursing a slight headache. Now I'm not sure if the reason for me not liking the movie was because of the headache or because it just wasn't any good.

I read the book nearly five years ago, and I remember liking it very much. But it was five years ago, so my memory of reading it is far from fresh. I looked forward to reacquainting myself with Philip Pullman's characters in the movie and I was glad they were the same as I had left them so many years ago... except that I don't really find their company all that enjoyable any more.

Was it just me, or was the movie just incomprehensible? I mean, I read the book, but even then half the time I was struggling to understand what was going on and what the motivations of each character was. Example: Mr. Lee Scoresby, the cowboy captain of an airship2. It felt too easy for him to offer the kind of help he gave to Lyra. And Lyra instantly follows his advice. What if Mr. Scoresby was leading her into a trap? The character of Lyra up to then had already showed a lot of smarts and certainly didn't look like someone who'd be gullible to believe anything and everything that was said. That scene was one of many that didn't allow me to suspend my disbelief enough to stay in the world of the movie.

When I read the book I had imagined Lyra's world as being a sort of advanced Victorian steampunk setting, but in the movie it looks like everything was designed by Howard Roark. While I don't have anything against Art Deco, I still thought the set designers should have gone with something a little less glossy and shiny and went with something more inspired from Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen3.

Most of the actors gave an adequate performance, especially Dakota Blue Richards who made a convincing Lyra Belacqua. Nicole Kidman is wonderful as the charming but sneaky Mrs. Coulter. But what's up with the rest? I am referring to Daniel Craig, Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen4 amongst others. McKellen, as the voice of Iorek Byrnison the armoured bear, sounds like he phoned it in. While half-asleep.

And that "Lyra Silvertongue" line? I think audiences around the world rolled their eyes so much, the earth actually lost momentum.

Ultimately, I felt the movie was a big letdown. Pretty eye-candy but the story was mostly opaque. I wasn't even rewarded with an atheist treatise railing against religion. What a bummer. Hmm. Maybe it wasn't the headache after all. But remind me not to catch a midnight show again. Guh.

1 Actually I think there was only one beer ad and I don't even remember what beer it was. I do remember the Digi and the Sony ads though, but then I could be remembering them from another movie-going experience. After a while my movie-going sessions just collapse into one another so I can never really tell if that asshole in the row behind me who keeps kicking my seat was from Across the Universe or Beowulf.

2 Dirigibles and Cowboys. They should make a movie out of that concept. Oh wait. No. I just remembered about Wild Wild West. Okay, scratch that.

3 The original comics, damn you, not that travesty with Sean Connery.

4 And with the addition of Eva Green, the movie is actually Casino Royale meets Lord of the Rings! How could it not fail!


  1. The trick may be lower expectations (or none at all) plus not having read the book before. I quite enjoyed it, despite the convenient plot devices. Hehe.

    P.S. I'll say it's more Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, Eva Green) meets The Invasion (Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman). Which means a lot of 007 there... Lol.

  2. Hmm. You may be right. I had braced for disappointment and had lowered my expectations after seeing the trailers, but I guess they weren't set low enough? *shrug shrug*

  3. Hey Ted,

    I stayed up till early morning to finish the book before I went to see the movie the next day, and yeah, it was so disappointing!

    But I already had my doubt anyway. Lord Asriel is too fabulous to be portrayed. And Daniel Craig interpretation made him looked like a sissy *totally my personal opinion* =P

    They switched the storyline (bear fight before Bolvangar, it was the other way round in the book), and I bet I won't understand half of the stuffs happening if I haven't read the book. Like the Lyra Silvertongue thingie, and Lord Asriel awkward affections towards Lyra.

    But the thing I hated most would be the ending! Wargh, how can they be that inconclusive? However, I did understand The Dust-Magisterium conflict in the movie better. I guess it was the wording.

    Some critics in the States hated Nicole Kidman! They called her performance "botox-induced," but I agree with you about Blue Richards. She was amazing for a first timer. I've seen worst *Daniel Radcliffe* =P

    No matter how frustrating Compass was, I still enjoyed it, though =)

    P.S Talking about expectation, have you seen August Rush? Now that's a real disappointment!

  4. Haha! Yeah, the book version of Lord Asriel was more buffed-up and meaner than Daniel Craig's portrayal. I'm not sure, but if I rememeber correctly he's even more mean in the third book. But I have to reread the whole thing. I just remember bits and pieces now. Your comment has certainly pushed me more towards doing it.

    I'm a little embarrassed to admit it but August Rush wasn't even on my movie radar! *blush*

  5. Not sure whether August Rush is good. But it's surprisingly a massive hit in, of all places, Korea.

    The film's failure will ensure that there won't be any sequels. Quite a pity, since I loved the sequels, but I'm sure film adaptations are likely to mess things up.

    I don't expect films to stick closely to their source materials, but when they are so incoherent as actual films, i gradually start to hate the fantasy films Hollywood's churning out. Eragon, Stardust and now this. (though I find Golden Compass better than the other two)


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