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Golden Compass [Reino Unido] [Blu-ray]
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My main problem with this movie is the same one I had with David Lynch's Dune: You really wouldn't know what's going on unless you've read the book. I saw the movie before I read the book, but my wife, who was watching it with me, had just finished the trilogy and she was able to explain a lot of what I was seeing - much like when I watch Dune with someone who hasn't read the book.
So in the end, The Golden Compass suffers from being too complex and fast-paced in order to do justice to the book it's based on. Yes, I liked the movie a lot (enough to buy it for my library), and it inspired me to read the fantastic novels, but those who haven't read the book may be confused by what they're seeing.
I wholeheartedly recommend this movie, but I really recommend reading the book first to get everything out of it.
The one alethiometer that survived is now in the possession of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), a college professor who defies the Magisterium by confirming the existence of dust. I'm not referring to the allergy-inducing particles that settle on ordinary surfaces; I'm referring to the magical substance that's somehow related to a rift between their universe and ours. Because this has put him at odds with the Magisterium, he gives the alethiometer to his orphaned niece, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a young girl raised by the professors at a university. Lyra, who absolutely hates being called a lady, is clever, bold, and incredibly headstrong, with an adventurous spirit that occasionally gets her into trouble. Her spirit--or daemon, as referred to by the characters--is Pan (voiced by Freddie Highmore), who hasn't quite decided which animal form to take. He spends most of his time as a ferret, but he also turns into a cat, a bird, and a mouse.
When Lyra hears that her uncle is traveling to the snowy north to find the dust and open this cross-dimensional rift, she wishes to join him. Asriel refuses to let her, and he warns her against speaking of dust to anyone. Here enters Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), the wicked, controlling head of the Magisterium; she quickly learns that the alethiometer is in Lyra's possession and vows to reclaim it by tricking Lyra onto her good side. Mrs. Coulter's true nature is soon revealed, and upon escaping, Lyra is put under the protection of the Gyptians, a band of rebels who were once aided by Lord Asriel. As they journey north with Lyra, she also meets: Serafina (Eva Green), an elegant, almost ethereal witch; Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott), a grizzled pilot who speaks like a Texan from the Old West; and Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen), a disgraced polar bear who was once a great warrior among an entire clan of polar bears. To rid himself of his shame, he decides to reclaim his stolen armor and protect Lyra at whatever cost.
This is pretty much the foundation for the adventure that follows, an adventure so big that it isn't over even when the movie ends. But in the grand scheme of things, the adventure is fairly superficial and only part of what makes it so wonderful; "The Golden Compass" is just as thought provoking as it is enjoyable, filled to the brim with intelligent, meaningful undertones. This isn't to say that the film exists entirely as one big commentary--a good portion of it functions at a level of pure entertainment, from the convincing special effects to the stunning set designs to the fantastic mechanical creations. The story is not one of the future, the past, or even the present; its unique setting has essentially made any sense of time meaningless. And let's not forget a number of lighthearted moments between Lyra and her best friend, Roger (Ben Walker), both of whom are more like bonded siblings.
But there is a dark side to this story. For one thing, the Magisterium is involved in a sinister plot to kidnap children and sever the connections between them and their daemons. The sooner they lose their spirits (pun definitely intended), the quicker they can be controlled. There's also a general sense of foreboding that runs through the entire film, as if to say that certain things are not as simple as they may first appear. Consider the fact that a person's physical pain is also felt by his or her daemon, and vice versa: What exactly will happen if one of them dies? Can one exist without the other? And how exactly are daemons a threat to free will?
The fact that I'm asking these questions is a good thing, because it proves that "The Golden Compass" is a stimulating film. Rarely is a fantasy story allowed to transcend the limiting clichés of princesses, castles, dragons, swords, and predictable Hero's Journeys. Here's a film that actually brings something new to the genre, something fresh, exciting, daring, and determined. This is not a mind-numbing rehash; it's a thoroughly original experience, highlighted by delightful performances, a solid structure, and a well-rounded social commentary. I suppose I should make a note about the Catholic Church's poor reception of this film, but why bother? Religion--or lack thereof--has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with being engaging, smart, and imaginative.
Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is clearly the star of this adventure that explores the possibility of other, parallel worlds whose interaction with the world as we know it is controlled by various groups of good guys and bad guys, all seeking the source of secrecy contained in a Golden Compass that can only be read by a single girl - Lyra, a poor child living in the presence of scholars. Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) places the Golden Compass in Lyra's knowing hands and heads off to the far North to investigate the element that binds all life together - Dust. The tale is set in motion by the enigmatic Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) who gains Lyra's confidence and offers to take her to the great North. All manner of adventures occur on the journey - friends of Lyra's are threatened to be separated from their various daemons in the cruel hands of the bad guys, Lyra's encounter with a witch Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green), her assistance from a friendly astronaut (Sam Elliott) and an armored bear - and with all fantasies, good prevails - or does it? Tune in for the very obvious next installment.
The pleasures are many, not the least of which are the voices and changing forms of the little animal daemons. The cast is excellent and the whole movie sails with yet another beautiful musical score by Alexandre Desplat. It is a nice diversion, but you have to love fantasy. Grady Harp, May 08
I promise, I tried my best to like this movie, for the sake of those books. For the sake of Sam Elliot and the goddess Nicole Kidman. Heck, even for that cute little new girl. They all did their best, but frankly this movie was fluff, and it's hard to work with fluff. How could they take such thought- and controversy- provoking books and turn them into fluff? I'm hardly an atheist, but I had appreciated the story's urge for free thought, free will, and a keener look at authority. The smidgen they put in here was all too welcomed, but not enough to give this movie proper heart and soul.
What we are left with is a rushed train of lovely cinematography, scenery, and special effects that accompany an equally rushed plot. Yes, there is a lot of story to get into this movie, but making that the priority left me cold toward these characters who were weak in the book and utterly two-dimensional on screen. I felt like I was an infant teenager being instructed in the ways of generic fantasy. Talking bears? Soul-daemons? Other worlds? Texas as a country? Wonderful, fantastic ideas that appeared on the big screen like toys in hurried images.
I'm sorry, but while the director was having fun with the camera, the audience was confused by the random jumping from scene to scene, plot to plot.
So maybe it was a tragic result of putting a plot-based rather than character-based story in a movie that led to all story and show and no emotional depth. Maybe it was a tragic result of playing it safe by removing all blatant references to religion. Maybe I'm just a whiney book purist.
All I know is that the result was flashy, heartless, and boring.