May 07, 2008
The Golden Compass
Along with Starlight, The Golden Compass is one of the better fantasy film adaptations of late (a movie not being an illustrated version of a book), and remarkably well-paced. Minus the credits, it runs a tad over 100 minutes. Extraordinary in these days of unrestrained cinematic obesity.
For purists, it may zip along with a bit too hastily, skipping across narrative pond like a stone. But in a genre like this, the adventure/quest structure is always the best bet. And they still manage to cram in the most important ideas--dust, daemons and agency--without things thudding to a standstill.
Still, an intrusive narrator would have helped thread the various plot elements together, even something deliberately retro and campy, as in the first Indiana Jones movie. The risk for the non-Pullman fan, jokes Dana Stevens, is not the taking of offense, but that "you'll have no idea what's going on!"
On the other hand, remaining faithful to an epic novel requires a more elastic medium. Anime, for example. Compare Scrapped Princess or Eureka Seven or even Tweeny Witches. Perhaps a future Masterpiece Theatre will tackle the material with fewer special effects but more dramatic patience.
Dakota Blue Richards and Nicole Kidman wear the roles of Lyra and Mrs. Coulter like a pair of gloves. Sam Elliot is perfectly cast as well. Daniel Craig is James Bond. Lots of other great actors like Derek Jacobi (intimating a Rome circa 60 A.D. rather than Edwardian London) show up in cameos.
In any case, despite the complicated ideas and rushed plotting, a worldwide gross of $370 million suggests that director Chris Weitz got something right (even if New Line Cinema got everything so wrong). But then, the rest of the world saw in it a thrilling adventure story. Not the Apocalypse.