Controversy Aside: Is The Golden Compass a Good Movie?

My review of The Golden Compass will be posted here on opening day. You might want to wait before you order tickets, unless you plan to see it no matter what critics say.

Apparently the Times Online doesn’t have to respect¬†the studio’s rules about publishing reviews early. Their reviewer went to the star-studded premiere last night and was not swayed by the hype. He refers to the movie as

… Weitz’s spectacular shambles. The books weave a magic that the film simply cannot match.

The problem with the film, which has its world premiere in Leicester Square tonight, is the haystack of derivative film twists and the fatal lack of genuine drama.

At The Guardian, the critic sounds like he wants to like the movie, but then he says things like this:

As with many adaptations of this sort, a lot of the novel’s supporting background material which might acclimatise us to the story’s strange and distinctive world has been stripped out.

You’re just plunged straight into the action and have to get used to this bewildering, exotic new universe as best you can. The effect is interesting and alienating, though the tiniest bit more absurd than I think Philip Pullman would have intended. It’s not hard to see which buttons this movie is hitting: Narnia, Hobbits, Hogwarts, Star Wars.

The crowded imaginary universe of The Golden Compass takes some getting used to, and in some ways, as a non-follower of the Pullman books, I have still to be entirely sold on it.

Emmanuel Levy gives it a “B”, but he sounds like he’s willing to disregard aspects of the film that I certainly won’t disregard in my review:

There are so many original ideas and intriguing characters in “The Golden Compass,” the film version of Philip Pullman’s first book of his acclaimed trilogy “His Dark Materials,” that one is willing to disregard the movie’s major flaws: Chris Weitz’s uninspired direction and the uneven special effects that ultimately don’t reflect the state-of-the-art technology of fantasy films.

Overall, “Golden Compass” is a likable, moderately engaging, and well-acted children’s fable, but it lacks the magic and unified style visionary directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, and Peter Jackson would have given to such rich literary source material.

… Weitz’s conception and pedestrian execution are problematic. The gulf between the cosmic aspects and the personal stories, which is crucial in Pullman’s book, is not well served by Weitz the scripter or helmer.

It’s too bad, for while Weitz succeeds in conveying the thematic elements of a compelling fantasy about the human spirit and free will, loyalty and kindness, his “Golden Compass” lacks a sense of magic and wonder.

There are three reactions to the film at Ain’t It Cool, and all three of them voice varying levels of dissatisfaction with the the movie.¬†

More to come…

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.


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