I’m not sure what all the hoopla was surrounding The Golden Compass. I believe it has something to do with the atheistic stance the author of the book from which the movie was adapted from had. Sure there are a few themes that indicate religion is a bad institution, but I don’t recall seeing anything that I felt undermined organized religion as a whole. What I did see were several reasons as to why the movie did not perform as well at the theaters as anticipated.
First and foremost, the marketers of the movie forgot who they were marketing their product to. Rule number one is “know thy audience”, which basically means, know what you are selling and to whom you are selling it to. The Golden Compass was marketed as a family oriented movie. That’s right, I’ll say it again, this film was marketed as a family fantasy adventure. Problem is this movie is not meant for kids in any way shape or form. Here’s why:
It is confusing as all hell. I’ll admit I haven’t read any of Philip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials trilogy (this movie is based off of the first book, Northern Lights), but I can’t imagine the story being this poorly told. The solution to this was, dare I say, to make the movie longer. And while I’m not necessarily saying it needed to come in at a whopping 178 minutes like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring did, 113 minutes was not enough time to introduce and make clear the concepts of dust, parallel universes, the Alethiometer and what all the characters mean to it all. So it is safe to say, if adults are left scratching their heads like buffoons, children will most certainly be worse off.
To delve further into this confusion, the characters aren’t fully fleshed out. I figured out that Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) was somehow the chosen one to protect the parallel universes and the final Alethiometer. But why? I was equally perplexed as to what the hell Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) was doing and how did it tie into what was going on. Likewise, for the always beautiful, Nicole Kidman. Was her character, Marisa Coulter, an evil cog of the Magisterium or was she out for the good of Lyra? Why was Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot) introduced? As you can see, there are more questions than there are answers, although I’m fairly certain the upcoming sequels will provide the closure needed to make sense of everything.
Now back to listing other possible reasons The Golden Compass has fallen off the radar screen. Polar bears. Sure they look fucking great, but armored polar bears may be too intense for family oriented movies. As much as I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t want my kid sitting next to me while Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen) tears through hordes of Eskimo-looking bandits and fights the reigning bear king. I will however, gladly give out brownie points for there not being penguins showcased in the movie (Lord knows I hate penguins).
For what it is worth though, visually, the movie is stunning. I had no idea the North Pole, in its desolation was actually so riveting to look at. High marks for the computer generated imagery (CGI) effects too. The familiars (animals containing the souls of their hosts) took on many sizes and shapes and each looked very life-like. The The Golden Compass proves that the more technology progresses, the harder it is to tell the difference between what is real and what I not.
So while, I am sure the next movies in this series will make the entire trilogy more palatable, The Golden Compass by itself doesn’t stand particularly strong. I’m not going to say to not see this movie, but I will say you’re better off seeing one of the five Harry Potter movies or The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to satiate your need for a family fantasy.