I have not yet had a chance to see The Golden Compass, which opens in less than two weeks, and I am inclined to think I should avoid reading any reviews that might pop up between now and the local screening. Best to see the film fresh, and all that. (Until recently, I read everything I could because I was working on a few articles about this film and I needed to be as up-to-date as possible. But I recently filed the last of my sight-unseen articles, and the next piece I write will be an actual review. So I can arguably afford to avoid reading about this film for now.)
However, I could not resist checking out what the fan site BridgeToTheStars.net had to say today. An American colleague of mine recently saw the film and suggested it would have been better if the filmmakers had taken three hours to tell their story, as each of the Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) films did, rather than two hours or less. And that impression seems to be confirmed by excerpts like these (emphasis in the original, and spoiler warning to those who have not read the book):
The film executes the small things (described here) exceedingly well, but unfortunately it falters when it comes to maintaining a coherent whole. Scenes are not given enough time to breath – there is not enough quiet time amidst the boisterous goings-on. Apart from the opening section at Oxford, with a more languorous pace, the plot is driven remorselessly forward and there are several occasions where it is pushed on by characters knowing (or guessing) things extremely quickly. The rapidity of the film is best exemplified by what happens after the bear fight. Iorek defeats Ragnar, declares himself king, then turns to Lyra and says “and now I will take you to Bolvangar.” And then they’re off. . . .
The movie’s Magisterium, alas, is a cartoon villain, with no indication of a driving belief philosophy behind its domination of Brytain (and Europe). The removal of their religious motivations makes the institution incredibly bland, a mere band of thugs with a domineering power for no apparent reason. . . .
The Golden Compass has what it takes to be a success. It’s not Lord of the Rings, but it’s not Eragon either. Fans of the books will love the visualisation of many of the books scenes – especially at Oxford – but the feel of the book is still not entirely quite there. There’s no real grand sense of adventure with such little time to stop and gaze. . . . Too much of is simply events coming one after another and the pity is that just another few calmer scenes could have made the movie so much better. As it is, the film comes in under two hours anyway, so it’s hard to see what the rush was. . .
The last three chapters being removed seriously hurts the structure of the film – there’s little real intrigue in a story where children are kidnapped and then rescued – especially with such ease, for the witches come to the Gyptian’s aid for no given reason and the Gyptians are somehow able to rush a rifle regiment across open snow. As it is, the film simply ends with Lyra and Roger in Lee’s balloons, heading towards the north to find Lord Asriel. The moral ambiguity of Roger’s death at Lord Asriel’s hands and the spectular tearing into a new world could have elevated the film just another step up, into ‘great’ rather than merely ‘good’.
The review also mentions that the film begins with Eva Green doing the opening narration and explaining some of the story’s key concepts. That sounds rather like the way The Fellowship of the Ring opened with Cate Blanchett spelling out the history of Middle-Earth in voice-over.