Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Golden Compass Movie... Thumbs Down

It was a Herculean task, bringing The Golden Compass to the big screen. The book from which the film was adapted was a complex and magical fantasy, and as such, capturing that magic is difficult at best. I knew that going in. And yet I had dared to hope...

Visually, The Golden Compass didn't disappoint. The CGI graphics were stunning. The set design, placement, costuming, makeup, etc. more than lived up to expectations. Beyond that, however, I'm sad to say that the rest of the movie fell short.

I'm a fan of the series, anti-religious soapbox notwithstanding, and maybe that was the toughest hurdle to jump. If I hadn't read the book, there's a good chance that I would have been merely confused by the disjointed and expository storytelling of the movie. As it was, though, I was repeatedly disappointed when a concept or scene was glossed over, changed, or forgotten altogether.

Case in point, I couldn't wait to see how they presented one of my favorite characters in the book, the panserbjorn Iorek Byrnison. Iorek was a true hero, an exiled king who held fast to his warrior's code no matter what it cost him. In fact (shameless plug warning,) I was so taken with Iorek that I chose to write about him in the Borders anthology, The World of the Golden Compass. Sadly, the character development of the Iorek in the film pales in comparison to the Iorek in the book.

The book character chose to exile himself for killing another bear out of anger - an act which goes against the panserbjorn code. The Iorek in the movie was cast out because he LOST a battle with another bear. That difference cast him in an entirely different light.

The book Iorek refused to leave his work when Lyra informs him where his armor is hidden because he gave his word to work until sundown. The movie Iorek runs off to the depot straight away - no mention of promises or honor.

Even the climactic armored bear fight scene is robbed of its significance since it is misplaced and never reveals that Iofur Raknison (name changed to Ragnar Sturlusson in the movie to prevent confusion because, you know, movie goers are stoopid and can't tell the difference between the names Iorek and Iofur) had orchestrated the first fight wherein Iorek killed the other bear, and this to steal the throne. When Iorek defeats Iofur in the book, he is righting a wrong, when Iorek defeats Ragnar in the movie, he gets to be king 'cause he's tougher. Big whoop.

And one has to wonder why, in this new version of events, the new king Iorek doesn't take his subjects with him to Bolvangar to fight the tartars and free the children.

In short, the movie had too many lapses of logic and was much too rushed to do the book justice. Even with some fabulous casting (Nicole Kidman was perfect as Mrs. Coulter and Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra practically carried every scene) and fabulous daemon effects (Mrs. Colter's golden monkey was suitably terrifying while Lyra's Pan made you wish you could have a daemon of your own) The Golden Compass movie turned out to be all style and no substance.