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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Literature > Religion > The Golden Compass: 2-Disc Platinum Series (Blu-ray/New Line)

The Golden Compass: 2-Disc Platinum Series (Blu-ray/New Line)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: C



The His Dark Materials Trilogy, which includes the Golden Compass, is an excellent literary work by Phillip Pullman; but the Golden Compass film adaptation is an awful effort by writer/director Chris Weitz.  The Religious Right bashed the film months prior to its release and protested it when it finally did arrive in theaters.  Apparently the general public also staged their own protest, because even with the film making an astronomical amount of money world wide, the American box office revenue was very underwhelming.  With His Dark Materials Trilogy having a supposed, deep, ‘anti-God’ undertone the Religious Right was ‘understandably’ upset with the film’s arrival.  The only problem with their argument is three fold.


One, Phillip Pullman’s Trilogy is a well written piece of art that has an array of different interpretations that Pullman neither confirms nor denies; though he recognizes that religion has an overwhelming presence in the novels.  Second, is the fact that of the three novels, Golden Compass is the least religiously centered; mainly due the fact that much of the plot has yet to be revealed in the first novel.  Lastly, Chris Weitz managed to cut so much out of the novel (i.e. - Religion) that parts of the novel are unrecognizable in the film.  Weitz destroyed the grittiness of the novel by white washing over controversial topics, violence, and plot development.  Phillip Pullman slowly developed ideas in his novels that made the reader think and develop notions of their own; by using an opening voiceover that through everything right in the viewers’ laps Weitz destroyed the intelligence of novel.  The only religion that can be observed in the Golden Compass is when Chris Weitz and New Line Cinemas sold their souls to the devil for box office profits.


The plot of the Golden Compass film centers on a young girl named Lyra that lives as a ward of Oxford College and possesses the power to read an ancient and magical instrument called an Alethiometer (looks like a golden compass).  The Alethiometer is an instrument that can answer any question that it is asked.  Lyra, an orphan, lives in a universe that is parallel to our own (there are many universes); a universe that is ruled by the strict and slightly deranged Magisterium.  In Lyra’s world a person’s soul resides outside their body in the form of an animal known as a Daemon.  A person has no control over what form their Daemon is, but it usually reflects their emotions and personality.  A child’s Daemon is unsteady and changes often according to how they are feeling at the moment; as a person develops their Daemon changes less and less until it becomes steady and unchanging.  Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is a man who challenges the Magisterium’s doctrine with his notions of a mysterious substance known as ‘Dust.’  Asriel, after nearly being assassinated by the Magisterium but saved by Lyra, leaves on an expedition to the North with funding from Oxford to explore his hypothesis.


It seems the moment that Asriel leaves Oxford the odd, yet beautiful Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) arrives at the college and takes Lyra on as here assistant as they travel to the North for some of Mrs. Coulter’s own experiments.  As the story unfolds it is becomes more a more apparent that children all over Lyra’s world are going missing and it is the work of a mysterious group known as ‘The Gooblers.’  It is not long until Lyra realizes that Mrs. Coulter is more than she seems with an unnatural and violent agenda.  Lyra goes on the run where she meets a cast of interesting characters and creatures on her quest to solve the mystery of her missing friends.  There are Armoured Bears, beautiful witches, and magic and mystery that should thrill anyone; but somehow Chris Weitz managed to turn the film into a bland mess.


The film is too short!  Harry Potter, Narnia, The Lord of the Rings; all films (with multiple parts mind you) that run longer than the 113 minute Golden Compass.  Even with great performances from Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Dakota Blue Richards it was not enough to save the film from the Chris Weitz’s hack job, massacre on Pullman’s original novel.  Weitz throws the back story in everyone’s face with some presumption that audiences will understand the complicated and detailed storyline.  In the end, The Golden Compass was a mess right up to the end (which Weitz also cut short).  Let’s just hope he learns from his mistakes for the sequels.


The technical features on this 2-Disc Blu-ray are definitely far from golden.  The picture is presented in a 1080p High Definition 2.35 X 1 Widescreen that has a few issues.  The picture quality is often soft and a lot of detail is lost in the closer shots.  In the more distant scenes the contrast is good with relatively well presented colors, but for a film that won an Oscar for visual effects, this reviewer is just not seeing the level of picture quality that should be present.  The sound also has issues in its English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless that does well in the larger action sequences or those that contain more bass, but overall the sound quality has a compressed feeling with the mix being limited throughout considering all the channels here.  Dialogue is a victim in the mix, sounding substandard and this is not the first time a 7.1 mix has had that problem in our coverage of such few releases to far.


The extras are the one thing that are not tattered on this Blu-ray release, offering fans a good number of features to complement the film.  The only extra available on disc 1 is the enhanced visual commentary with writer/director Chris Weitz.  Weitz (the only speaker in the commentary) shows his passion for the film series by going into a high level of detail on the visual effects, actors, what was changed from the original novel, and a ton of other behind the scenes notes.  The commentary track is one of the better ones that this reviewer has seen in a long time.  The extras available on disc 2 consist of over 2.5 hours of special features that includes a three part featurette on the origins of the novel, the adaptation, and Oxford.  The three part featurette goes a lot into what inspired Phillip Pullman to write the novel, Weitz in making the film, and the rest of the casts’ impression on the film and novel.  The Oxford segment more so explored the Oxford location where most of the film was shot, along with an array of other British locations.


The other features on Disc 2 include some behind-the-scenes looks at the costumes, music, production design, the launch of the film, and the process of finding the films lead, Lyra Belacqua.  The casting of Lyra seems to have been an extensive and exhaustive task that even Weitz states was draining and difficult.  The casting of Lyra could either make or break the film and Weitz was not going to take any chances.  The final extra segments available on the second disc are three looks into the world of The Golden Compass with many stills and making of segments of Armoured Bears, the Alethiometer, and the Daemons.  Overall, this reviewer found the extras very extensive and worth while.  Though the film did not meet the high expectation of many fans, the extras at least allow an in-depth look at the films inspirations and creative processes.


If you are a fan of the novels, prepare to be disappointed; but on some odd level this reviewer suggests that after years of waiting for the novels to come to life, the film is at least worth a look.



-   Michael P Dougherty II


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