Movie Review: The Golden Compass (2007)

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.

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
2 Star Rating: Bad


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The Critical Movie Critics

I'm an old, miserable fart set in his ways. Some of the things that bring a smile to my face are (in no particular order): Teenage back acne, the rain on my face, long walks on the beach and redneck women named Francis. Oh yeah, I like to watch and criticize movies.

'Movie Review: The Golden Compass (2007)' have 5 comments

  1. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 21, 2007 @ 12:53 am Fletch

    Then again, there probably won’t be any sequels made. Both you and I are probably better off just reading the books.

    I wasn’t terribly confused, but I agree with a lot of your complaints. I guess I just wrote a bunch of them off as unimportant (why Sam Elliott was there, for example – he was there to provide guidance and transportation for Lyra – no more, no less). As for what Asriel was doing…um, research on dust and looking for a portal to the parallel universe, I guess.

    For kids or not, though, the polar bear fight was pretty sweet.

  2. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 21, 2007 @ 7:08 am General Disdain

    LOL, I suppose I could have made my complaints clearer. I know I can trust you to make me make my points clearer (or something like that)!

    It felt like most characters were thrown together without any regard for the story. Lord Asriel, who I guess is a major force in the series, is an aside in the movie — I couldn’t help be feel he needed more explanation (I knew he was researching dust).

    And hell yeah, the polar bear fight was sweet. It was the only redeeming quality for the movie. Without that, I would have rated this film worse.

  3. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 21, 2007 @ 9:07 am Rachel

    I took my nephew to see this over the weekend and he loved it. He wants a polar bear from Christmas now!

  4. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 21, 2007 @ 10:47 am DCMovieGirl

    I honestly think any salvation this film had at the box office was ruined by the ending.

    The first Harry Potter was not a good movie. It’s mediocrity is on par with this movie. But it had an ending.

    You leave an audience feeling cheated and they will tell their friends.

    It’s a shame too…I would have liked to see the sequels which are MUCH better for film.

    On the good news front, it’s failure is what probably made Pete Jackson’s The Hobbit, a go. *yippee!*

  5. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 28, 2010 @ 6:52 am Lynne

    I can’t comment much, I haven’t seen it myself, but I did hire it one night for my two kids and they were bored very quickly.

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