The Golden Compass (2007)
Really fun, engaging and fast moving fantasy spectacle
I went in cynical about this, especially after the travesty that was
the Narnia film, but i was quickly converted: it's great fun. A really
entertaining and immersive film that intelligently builds a fantastical
world that the uninitiated can marvel and thrill in. I have to say i
haven't read the books so can't comment on a book to film comparison.
On the cast, I don't know how it works in the book but the adults are
barely in this. Nicole has the most significant work and Sam Elliott,
while a late arrival, is a great presence once he's around. However
Daniel Craig and Eva Green are barely in it and Christopher Lee has one
blink-and-you'll miss him scene. That said the casting is excellent.
Green is suitably witchy and Craig makes an impact in his one/two
dialogue scenes early on which, along with a couple of wordless inserts
of his storyline, put him enough into your mind to wonder about him. He
feels set up for a more significant role in future instalments. Elliott
is great. That sonorous voice sneaking out from underneath that bushy
moustache feels exactly right for Lee Scorsby.
Kidman is perfect. There's something indelibly creepy about her rigid
manner that works for the elegant but sinister Mrs Coulter. Meanwhile
Simon McBurney is magnificently slimy and loathsome as the magisterium
main face. You know he's a villain from the moment he enters frame.
Dakota Blue Richards is a great find as Lara. While the first two
Potter films and Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe were significantly
hampered by the incredibly mannered, unrealistic, wooden acting of the
young leads (most of the Potter cast got better, time will tell on
Narnia) Richards is a winner from the outset. Precocious and feisty
without seeming too forced she is generally believable whether is her
rebellion or her loyalty. This is just as well as the film is really
entirely on her shoulders. It will work or not for people based on
whether you like her. She's in virtually every scene and has a lot of
different emotions to get across as well as having to have significant
interaction with CGI creations like her spirit animal Pan (the
ubiquitous Freddie Highmore) and the polar bear played by Ian McKellen.
She has a couple of slightly actorly moments but does incredibly well
for a first timer under this kind of pressure.
Of the voice-only cast McKellen is a perfect choice for the honourable
polar bear while Highmore is either getting less annoying or it's just
beneficial not being able to see him, as he is nicely understated as
Pan. My only note on this casting would be once or twice I couldn't
tell is Lyra or Pan was speaking in their interaction as in quiet
moments Highmore and Richards' voices are remarkably similar!
The effects are good but not great. I had worried they'd be as weak as
Narnia and they aren't. The world is beautifully created and always
feels real, whether Scorsby's flying ship or the blimp thing from the
trailer, or stunning Arctic landscapes and big cities. The smaller
creatures are also brilliantly rendered, Pan in particular. Some of the
bigger creatures are less perfect. The polar bears have a cartoony
unreal feel but in a fantasy setting with battle armour and stuff they
work well enough. Certainly better than Aslan in Narnia. However the
leopard creature with Daniel Craig doesn't look right at all.
As for the film itself it really zips along quickly. The uninitiated
(like me) may occasionally lose track of what's going on early on as
strange terms and names are thrown back and forth but it soon settles
down and makes sense. Rather than frustrating me that I might be
missing key elements of what this world was about I felt happy going
with it and was left thinking I'll watch it again when it's released
just to be sure I didn't miss anything. It's a relief to see a fantasy
film that brings it in at almost exactly two hours and has a cracking
momentum, as opposed to the seemingly endless drag of Lord of the
Rings, Harry Potter and Narnia. Don't get me wrong taking time can
work. I really liked Fellowship of the Ring but the pace of the Potters
really tests my patience. Golden Compass moves so fast before you know
it it's over and it leaves you wanting more. Indeed at the end of this
film I could say it had succeeded in doing something the Potter
franchise has never done: it left me desperate to see the next one.
However what really made me like this film more than those others is
the tone and some of the things they do in it. There are moments in
this, that i won't spoil for those like me who didn't know the plot,
that really surprised me that they'd do in a family film.
A big fight scene between polar bears and the end battle are suitably
exciting and i found myself really invested. I cared about the
characters. Whereas in Narnia they hadn't done enough to make you care
about Aslan's fate (criminal given how effectively the book and the 80s
BBC TV serial managed it) this really has you on the edge of your seat
for the good guys.
Overall I really liked Golden Compass and would give it an 8/10 –
compared to LOTR 10/10, 9/10, 7/10 for the series, Potter 5/10, 6/10,
8/10, 7/10, 7/10 for the series and Narnia 4/10. I will be watching
this again when it comes out (something I never did for Potter or
Narnia) and am looking forward to the next instalment. I hope Daniel
Craig and Eva Green get bigger roles in the next film, but all round a
great start to a potential franchise that I had middling hopes for.
|Nr of disks/tapes:||2|
|Storage device:||Divx 5|