Movie Review of the Day: The Golden Compass (Part One)
I wasn’t going to miss it. When I lived in Portland, Oregon I used to spend my days huddled in the Powell’s bookstore, desperately paging through each of the His Dark Materials books as I munched on cookies in the coffee shop. It was there that I read The Golden Compass in its entirety, and I remember the desperation I felt to finish the book and then immediately pick up the next one. That was probably seven years ago, and I haven’t reread the series since. So with my foggy memory in tow, I set out to watch this pretty confection and determine whether or not the man who brought us the American Pie films could seriously bring Pullman’s vision to life. Those of you who are members of the child_lit listserv will have heard far more coherent, not to say passionate, discussions of this film, so I won’t be offended if you skip these oddly incoherant blatherings. This is what I saw:
First of all, the film was preceded but a shocking amount of children’s book to film adaptation trailers. Inkheart, Spiderwick (the new trailer), and Prince Caspian all appeared in a quick-fire succession. Of these, Inkheart and Prince Caspian came off looking the best. For the first time in my natural born life I found myself thinking, "I gotta go read that Caspian book", if only to figure out if what I saw in the trailer paired up with the original. Inkheart looked good, and may well be a better movie than book. It’s all about the editing. Spiderwick, I’m afraid, was the weakest of the three and didn’t look quite as stunning as it had in the original trailer. I’m a little worried about the casting. Can Freddie Highmore pull off the sheer levels of anger necessary for a character like Jared? Unclear.
Oh. Right. You wanted a review of Pullman’s movie. Well, here’s info that you already knew, I’m sure. Stunner of a piece. Really lovely. The CGI was well up to par, and the daemons magnificent. They’re really a lovely touch and made me look forward to every scene where there were humans. I was a little disappointed that one of favorite daemons from the book didn’t really get her due. In the story, Farder Coram’s daemon is an amber cat with flecks of different colors in her fur that I had really wanted to see. She proved to be the least visible daemon of the movie, however, often keeping completely out of site for large swaths of time. Iorek Byrnison, however, almost made up for her loss. My husband, who is not a fan of the book, said that Iorek was the character he felt the most sympathetic towards in this film, and this was probably due in no small part to Ian McKellan doing his voice. Still, his look was grand. A scarred muzzle and a fight scene that ended with a guy behind me screaming, "NO WAY!".
Has anyone else noticed that to be a woman in this film you had to have already appeared with Daniel Craig in one of his previous movies. Nicole Kidman was with him in The Invasion and Eva Green in Casino Royale. Odd. The casting for this film was spot on. I didn’t even mind seeing Christopher Lee yet again showing his face in a fantasy flick. If that man doesn’t appear in the final Harry Potter film I’ll eat my proverbial hat. I liked the kids, particularly the buck-toothed little specimen playing poor "we’ll always be together" Roger. Dakota Blue Richards was a pip. Slipped easily from street slang to proper English and back again without difficulty. There was a moment or two here and there where I would have liked her tears to have been a little less forced, but for the most part she carried her role beautifully. She is also the perfect age, which is a problem. After all, the three books happen sequentially and if they want to catch her before she pulls an Emma Watson on them, they’ll have to work fast on the next flick (but more on whether that will even happen later). The villains were villainous. The good guys good. And Sam Elliot should probably have had 20% more scenes because he stole every single one he was in. His accent also caught me entirely off guard. It would be the equivalent of John Wayne giving a speech in a Harry Potter film. Bizarre to the eardrums. Kathy Bates as Hester was a brilliant bit of casting as well. They were always my favorite pair in the books. Glad to see them getting the right amount of attention here.
Yet what was up with a whole film of white people? I sure hope the movie’s creators are going to be brave and make Will, the star of The Subtle Knife, black or something, because the only people that weren’t white in this film were the Arctic baddies who kidnap Lyra and Lord Asriel. I had expected that at least the Gyptians would have a couple different races on board. There are, after all, different heads of various Gyptian tribes present on the boat. But nope. Whitey white white every last one of them, and what a pale movie it was as a result.
(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)
Filed under: Reviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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