Saw a preview of The Golden Compass on Saturday night. Short review: Yes!
- They don’t pull any punches on the themes of religion and free will, although really, the Catholic League is still getting its knickers in a twist over not a hell of a lot. Although the Magisterium is churchy, to say that this film is some sort of an outright attack on Christianity is a gross oversimplification of what Pullman was doing with this particular volume. They should have waited until later in the series, when they’ll at least have more to be upset about.
- The movie is otherwise laudably faithful to the text, save for a biggie: it ends early. The last act of the book has been saved for the next film, for reasons that those who have read the thing will probably be able to figure out on their own. It was, however, filmed, and at least partially finished out — and stills from the act in question have even been posted to the net if you want to see them.
- I had forgotten about how the battle for supremacy between the two panzerbjörn played out, but my companion assures me that its resolution, which had a whole lot of audience members (including me) gasping, was entirely true to the book. Whoa. (The guy next to me spent a full two minutes muttering, “Duuuuude….”)
- Dakota Blue Richards, the actress who plays Lyra, is fabulous. Daniel Craig (Lord Asriel) and Eva Green (Serafina Pekkala) are both quite good, although neither gets much screen time. I was wary going into the theater of Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Coulter), but liked her a lot — she did a nice job handling the creepy reversals between nice-lady-you-want-to-like and terrifying-bitch.
- Watching the kids’ dæmons flow rapidly from animal shape to animal shape is a total gas. By and large, they did a really nice job with the CG rendering of the animals — very few moments where your brain sits up and says, ‘Hey, there’s something really wrong with that thing.’ Even when the thing in question is a ginormous polar bear thundering through the middle of a town and breaking shit up.
- The art directors did a stunning job. The tech of Lyra’s Earth is stunning, steampunk brass-and-glass mixed with these beautiful dunno-what-they-are-but-they’re-so-cool sparkly blue engine-globes; there’s fantasy-Oxford (now with eleventy-seven more Dreaming Spires™!); there’s a silver Art Deco tea set that I’m sure I’ve seen at the MOMA that seems right at home. The airships and horseless carriages and ocean vessels are all lovely. Much to ooh and aah over.
- Ditto the costumers. I should note that geek knitters will observe many quite-nice Gyptian handknits, particularly the cranberry-red-with-flecks-of-gold-and-other-colors coat that Lyra wears for the middle third of the movie. That coat may be this year’s version of Jayne’s hat, although finding the right yarn will be a challenge.
- The visual effect of the Dust is striking, and the sudden burst of sparkly lights as a dead character’s dæmon disintegrates is always both beautiful and strangely moving — when you see one in during a fight scene, whether close up or in the distance, the awareness that ‘oh, somebody just died’ is unexpectedly poignant.
- Where the operation of the golden compass itself is concerned — another expository challenge — I thought they did a nice job finding a middle ground between explaining what Lyra was doing and letting the images speak for themselves.
- Huh. New Kate Bush song in the closing credits. I had no idea it was in the works! And sure, that’s always a reason for celebration, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we’d just heard a very long intro, and the actual melody had been left out of the film. It seemed to be lots of etherial Kate-noodling-around and singing “Lyraaaa, Lyyyraaaaaaaaaaa, Lyyraaaa….” But no, that seems to be the whole thing.
Anyway, I thought it was totally worth your $11.75.