Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Golden Compass

Now I haven't read the book, so I can't really comment on the faithfulness of the movie to its source material. I'm under the impression that much was left out, as the movie progressed fairly quickly without explaining much- aside from simply telling us "This is how it is, so accept it." This is okay, however, since it's a fantasy story. You have to do into it, suspend your disbelief, and don't think too much about it afterwards.

It's very difficult to quickly summarize this movie adapted from the first installment of Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. In short, it is about a mythical world where all the citizens have a demon (an animal that is attached to everything they do) and where an iron fisted magistrate controls almost every aspect of society. Daniel Craig stars as Lord Asriel, an academic set on disobeying the magistrate. He is researching a mysterious substance known as dust, something the government is trying to cover up. His niece, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is on a mission of her own, finding children who have been taken during the night. She is truly the lead in this movie, setting off on an adventure that will introduce her to a wide array of characters and landscapes.

The strongest part of this movie was the acting. That's right, we have a new Dakota on our hands now- same age as Fanning, and just as good. Nicole Kidman plays a villainous, but conflicted extension of the ministry. She does what she does best- bring human characteristics to a generally unlikeable character. The rest of the movie is filled with a stellar cast, in perplexing small roles. Craig was not in much of the movie, but I'm sure his character will come into play much more in the sequels. Freddie Highmore (starring in August Rush) lends his voice to Lyra's demon, Pan. Ian McKellen is the voice of Lorek Byrnison, the polar bear featured so prominently in the trailers. Sam Elliot plays what else- a cowboy. His character is joyous, but horribly out of place in the context of the rest of the movie. Kathy Bates contributes her voice as Elliot's demon. Even Christopher Lee is in this, with no more than one or two lines. Even in the most minor roles, the cast was a huge priority in this movie.

As with any movie of this scale, huge stock was put in the visual effects. Rhythm and Hues (The Chronicles of Narnia, Night at the Museum) contributed world class effects and animation. The movie features a huge cast of computer generated demons, each with its unique look and personality. The greatest compliment to be paid to these artists is not saying how good these effects looked, but how good the characters were. The minute you stop thinking of them as effects, and think of them as characters, they've succeeded.

There has been tremendous controversy surrounding this movie and its source material. Pullman's books have been accused of being anti-Christian, and certain groups have spoken out against the movie. Director, Chris Weitz, made a conscious effort to distance the movie from these themes. Having not known about this controversy, I would have never drawn any connections to this issue. Despite toning down this controversy, the movie is still not for children. The movie is violent and in a few cases, graphically so. It's no Lord of the Rings, or Braveheart, but it's also not as tame as Harry Potter. A movie that has a cast featuring very strong children seems to be good.

It was a fun, interesting movie, but not without its flaws. As I mentioned earlier, even though it's fantasy, it still should have done more to explain why things are how they are. I'm hoping some of this is cleared up in the sequel,


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