Saturday, December 15, 2007

Golden Compass: a movie review

Just came back from the movie "Golden Compass", and it was a disappointment. I took kids out to see it because of generally positive New York Times review, but the reviewer was too kind. My wife was smarter: she refused to go.

I must preface this that my wife and I read the trilogy by Pullman earlier this year, and were a little underwhelmed. The first book I thought was OK to good, but it sort of went down from there. The plot was good (up until the point where it hit the nun turned physicist), but the characters were a little overblown (Lyra in particular was so rebellious, and cunning, and manipulative that she felt like a caricature of a normal person), and the narrative turned tedious in a number of places.

I actually felt that the book was a very good candidate for a film. The plot was good, there is plenty of opportunities for grand vistas, and the movie could easily dispense with tedios part and present the plot more dynamically.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. I cannot say that it was a total bust - it may even be better than average. Definitely not like "In her shoes" which I caught a glimpse in an airplane - after 10 minutes of these, I felt that my IQ has dropped 20 points, and on the 15s minute I turned it off and went to bed. "Golden Compass" is definitely not bad in this sense. I thought it was definitely much better than Narnia, and my dauther thought that it was better than Eragon.

The movie suffered on 3 major points. First, it was definitely not great photography. There was a lot of opportunity to make it so, as the plot was very conducive to it, but the team did not deliver. In one case (where Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coutler) it looked like the background was superimposed on her running figure - like an old movie shot from inside the moving car where the background does not look real. The northern vistas were very subdued. The bear was just not very impressive - a step back in time towards the Jurassic park, and away from the standards set by Lord of the Rings. The battle scene... let's not even get into that.

Second, the characters lost a lot of their dimensions. In the book, nobody was entirely good, or entirely evil. It was the Master of the Jordan College who tried to poison Lord Asriel, and Lord Asriel sacrificed a child to his experiment of opening a pathway to a parallel universe. The movie was sterilized of any attempts subplot of how pursuing the "greater good" can lead to lots of local evil. This turns out to be the major if not the biggest component of the book, and omitting it from the movie made the movie really shallow.

Finally, the movie was way too short relative to what it was trying to byte off. The problem with the book is that there aren't that many plot lines that could be cut off, especially if you plan the sequels, and 2 hours is just not enough time to present them all in any details. What that lead to was lots of people who were present in the movie, but it was entirely unclear why. For example, Lyra runs into Lee Scoresby and the next thing you see was she is flying in the balloon with him. The witches start fighting on Lyra's side after barely a 2 minute conversation. Who the witches are (or for that matter, gyptians, or armoured bears) was not really explained.

Resume - this is the movie I will not be buying on DVD. If you have not seen it, wait a while and then get it on Netflix if you must.


DzembuGaijin said...

Wow, wow , wow ! We went there on Friday night. All four of us. It was a good flick. I did not read the book, and that why I mostly enjoined the movie. I liked the way it was made: very enigmatic and sexy. Very nice mood. I only have issue with 2 things: I can not see last James Bond without smile :-) ( I watched Casino Royal sooooo many times) and ... It was part of the story, so ... kind of ... what it is all about ? It is very incomplete... kind of like Matrix 2 for example. I expected some thing like Matrix 1 or Resident Evil... you know... so you still fill that you got the point ... like Harry Potter for god sake. But ... I liked it. Nice movie for kids I think. Both kids agree. And very beautifully filmography : so "galmore". I will buy it on DVD and I hold the book now : starting to read it. ;-)

Sergey Solyanik said...

Vadik, our tastes are very different when it comes to movies. You watch Robotic Chicken for god's sake!

Of course I wouldn't expect that my movie review would be of any use for you!


DzembuGaijin said...

Quak, quak, quak, QUAAAAAAAAAAK! ... Q_U_A_K!


Yes, I like optimistic, rude and stupid movies or some thing cool and stylish: I enjoy mood,or visuals or just laugh :-)

I do not care about "story" that much or "moral" ( I do not need Spilberg teach me values and stuff :-))

Like, conspired evil that bad wants to control for better good :-) Yeah ? So ? Well ... :-)

I agree 100% that it is virtually imposable to make movie based on good book: it is very hard to fit so much action in 2 hours.

So, in such case it is much better see it first and then read the book: helps to avoid disappointment.

As for way it made: some time a "fake" make it look better: like it gives it some kind of fairy tale look, some kind of retro. I can not be sure, but I think they did it by design. Look on this cars and zeppelins they used : it is kind of cool:-)

I wish for example Shrek 3 was less real: graphics there is so real at a time :-)

Anyway, Golden Compass is not my favorite flick , but it was 10X better then Narnia ( Gnarnia !) and 100X better the Eragon : these two sucked big way !:-)

I watched it and went out of with happy smile: it was light and good fun :-)

We all had a blast this Friday :-)
( Thanks god I did not read you review before :-))

Dsha said...

Just discovered your blog, and it's really interesting reading. I

Concerning the movie - I would add another big issue to your excellent review: the movie has really no ending. What happened, say, to lord Azriel remains a mystery for me. I've never read Pullman's books, and the movie looks really very-very shallow for a person not familiar with them.