The Golden Compass: Review’d

December 20, 2007

Golden Compass Nicole KidmanLet me preface this by saying that I haven’t read the book. However, I get the distinct impression that Philip Pullman‘s tale has been horribly mangled — mutilated, even — to fit the running time here by director Chris Weitz. The film flits from one scene to the next like a hyperactive two-year-old who’s just wolfed down three bags of Skittles from the foyer; never pausing or stopping to take a rest. As a result it completely loses the epic sweep it so desperately needs.

Let’s talk about the fight scene between Iorek and Ragnar, for instance. Not only does this confrontation — which has been billed as a battle to restore a rightful heir to the throne — feel somewhat truncated, as soon as it’s over Iorek and Lyra are on to the next thing. And that’s not all…

Why, for example, do we drop Lord Asriel’s storyline half way through, and then return with a mere summary from Mrs Coulter near the end? Why is Lyra so attached to Iorek the bear after only spending about ten minutes in his company? Why is the Magisterium so bothered about separating children from their daemons? What’s the deal with the witches? Sure, Eva Green looks terrific flying about and firing arrows, but it’s never explained why she even bothered to turn up.

Golden Compass Dakota RichardsIt’s a real shame that these questions — and countless others like them — are not properly addressed (or even contemplated) because most of the individual elements are great: There’s a rich fantasy world, a strong central character, and great performances from Nicole Kidman and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards. The ingredients are sound, but the recipe is a mess.

The frustrating thing is that the running time clocks in well short of the two-hour mark, even including the credits, so there was definitely scope for extension in aid of developing the plot. And it’s not as if New Line (the distributor and producers) are known for being nervous about three-hour plus epics — Lord of the Rings, anyone?

To say this film is disappointing would be an understatement. And I haven’t even read the novel…

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