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The Golden Compass
Don't expect any sequels.
The Golden Compass
Nicole Kidman Stars in "The Golden Compass."
OPENING WEEKEND: $55,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $200,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

July 23rd, 2007: The first installment in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, based on the Philip Pullman fantasy trilogy, The Golden Compass is about a girl who travels to the far north to save her best friend, encountering shape-shifting creatures, witches and other fantastical characters along the way. In the second and third books, the action moves between parallel universes as the girl meets a boy from our world and they join forces to overthrow the repressive authority that rules everything.

What to Expect: When I started doing my research to write this preview I realized that this one was going to be extremely difficult. Most of the sites that attempted to discuss the movie were chastised by rabid fans for not reading the book. Now being the sensitive guy that I am, I decided to save myself that heartache and read the book. First, let me say I enjoyed the book, it was good, not great, but I am probably a little too old to truly appreciate it. At first glance, the book is just tailor made to be made into a movie. Yet, when I looked deeper I realized to my dismay that there was no way they could possibly stick to the depth of the original story. Underneath all of the breathtaking action throughout this epic journey is a clear anti Church message. There is no way a major studio would invest over a hundred million dollars in an epic movie just to have it attacked from every corner of the globe from here to the Vatican. I do not need an alethiometer to know that what we are going to get is going to be a shallow, hollow shell of a story that is going to disappoint critics and fans alike, but let me focus on the positives first.

Article continues below

The book reads like a really cool movie. The world it paints, with its mix of magic, science, and technology with a hint of 19th century grandeur and caste society, would look awesome with modern special effects and CGI animation. There will be witches zooming around in the sky, zeppelins, hot air balloons, CGI animated armored bears and shape shifting daemons. The story itself is a nice mix of two very successful franchises: Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. It is like Harry Potter in that there is a very likable orphan who is destined for greatness, but must first discover herself before she can fulfill her destiny while up against overwhelming odds. Audiences cannot help but cheer for Lyra in the same way they cheered for Harry. The story also has a lot of Lord of the Rings to it as well. In fact, the purchase of the rights to the His Dark Materials trilogy in 2002 by New Line Cinema was inspired by the success of the first Lord movie. As in Lord, Lyra must go on an epic journey where she gathers a group of unlikely allies and restores a prince to his throne all in order to face a much more powerful force that intends to destroy the world. There will be many battles, involving all kinds of different forces in a variety of locales. Filming for this movie included England, Norway and even the artic region of Svalbard. Unfortunately, the actors did not actually go to many of these places to film on location because of the inhospitable environment. I guess when you have an all-star cast you cannot just drag them out to the artic circle.

With all of the CGI animation and majestic backdrops, the real strength of this movie is still the human actors and a very impressive ensemble has been put together. Nicole Kidman, as suggested by the author Phillip Pullman himself, will star as the evil Mrs. Coutler. I cannot think of a better person for this role. Her natural beauty and grace will bring Mrs. Coutler to the big screen in a major way. If I was a little kid, I would definitely follow Kidman to the end of the earth. Daniel Craig will star opposite Kidman as Lord Asriel. I have my doubts about Craig as Asriel because of his small stature. Lord Asriel is a larger than life character who towers over people with an intimidating stature. Even though he is 007, I just am not that intimidated by him. What is even worse is the fact that he and Kidman are almost the same height so the one scene they have together is going to make Asriel look tiny, the director is going to have to film either at an awkward angle or use boosters to maintain his stature. The one positive about Kidman and Craig being cast is their chemistry. Craig says he is very attracted and turned on by Kidman. Kidman on the other hand never professed her love for Craig considering she is currently married to Keith Urban, but she does respect him as an actor. In a recent interview, Kidman praised Craig describing him as an "actor's actor", whatever that means. I think if the two continue working together like this, then Urban better watch out. Well, I think I spent way too much time on these two lovebirds because even though they are being billed as the stars, gracing movie posters and trailers, they really are not. The true star of this movie is Lyra. Casting went on for months until finally Dakota Blue Richards was chosen from over 10,000 hopefuls. This is going to be the young girl's first major movie, but that will not be a problem. What she lacks in experience, she makes up for with charm, confidence and outright adolescent cuteness. Fans will quickly embrace her as the stubborn but loveable Lyra in the same way they embraced Daniel Radcliffe as Harry. Regardless of how well Compass does, Richards will emerge as a star.

Now for the bad, and there is plenty of it. Probably the biggest theme of the book deals with the evils of organized religion. In the book, the nameless, faceless church rules with ruthless authority. The church fears everything new that it does not understand. It runs a clandestine operation under the "Obliteration Board" that kidnaps young children and cuts their daemons away, which are physical representations of the children's souls. This is a clear metaphor for the idea that organized religion, instead of allowing people to find their individual spirituality, will force a one size fits all solution on people and call out anyone who disagrees a heretic. Well, you just cannot invest over one hundred fifty million dollars into a movie with that sort of undertone and expect to make your money back. The producers struggled with this problem for years. In 2004 Chris Weitz was hired to direct the project. He stated that he would eliminate all mention of God and Church in the story earning the ire of the legions of Compass fans. He abruptly resigned citing extraordinary technical challenges and was replaced by Anand Tucker. Tucker wanted the story to focus on Lyra's search for family and identity rather than spirituality and religion. Before Tucker could get much work done on the project, he also resigned stating creative differences with New Line and Weitz returned to finish the work he started. I am very curious how he intends to eliminate all the references to God and Church from a story that revolves around it. I guess we will have to wait and see, but my guess is we are going to be extremely disappointed.

God and religion aside, there are also huge problems with bringing the Dark Materials world to life. Movies that attempted to create a similar mix of magic and technology such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen did not do well at the box office because audiences rejected the settings as too unbelievable. There are also problems with the CGI animation. Some people have voiced their concerns that Iorek, the armored bear, is going to be too cartoon-ish as a CGI character. I completely disagree with those concerns after seeing the new Transformers; I was completely sold on the reality of the CGI transformers, so a talking bear should be no problem. What is a lot more concerning is the fact that the animation is being done by three different companies. Rhythm and Hues Studios (Happy Feet, Narnia) is handling the main daemons like Pan, Framestore CFC (Harry Potter, X-Men 3) will handle all of the bears and Cinesite will handle all of the secondary daemons. How the three rival companies intend to make the animation look homogenous is still a mystery, we'll have to wait and see.

Finally, I have saved the worst part for last. When one of these expensive franchises is started, usually the entire franchise is planned out; Lord of the Rings even filmed all three together. At the very least the production company will usually make a plan for the cast to be around for all installments. This is not the case with the Dark Materials trilogy. New Line wants to wait and see how the Compass does before making any plans for future installments. New Line did hire a writer to create the next installment, the Subtle Knife, but they stress that the future of the franchise rests on how much money they can make off of the first. So, people who have read the book know it ends on a huge cliff hanger -


With Lyra crossing the newly created bridge to the world of the Aurora.


Wouldn't it suck if there were no sequels and they ended the entire story on that? Well, there is a very good chance that it will play out just like that.

In Conclusion: If you are a fan of the book then you are going to be hugely disappointed by how much the movie is going to deviate from the book. Well, that is usually the case with most books turned into movies. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then your imagination is worth a thousand pictures. It is still worth seeing though, just to be able to visualize what you imagined as a kid. On the other hand, if you have never read the book and are going into it with no basis for comparison, then you will enjoy this movie even more. It will be an action packed, well acted, beautifully animated family movie, and those always do well.

Similar Titles: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chronicles Of Narnia, The: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
December 7th, 2007 (wide)
April 29th, 2008 (DVD)

New Line Cinema

Chris Weitz

Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Sam Elliott, Eva Green, Tom Courtenay, Ben Walker, Adam Godley, Simon McBurney, Nonso Anozie, Jim Carter, Clare Higgins, Jack Shepherd, Magda Szubanski, Ian McShane, Daniel Craig, Freddie Highmore

Total: 301 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Drama, Fantasy

Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence.

113 min




The Golden Compass at RottenTomatoes.com

The Golden Compass at AskMen.com

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