Friday, February 12, 2010

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass; Fantasy adventure, USA, 2007; D: Chris Weitz, S: Dakota Blue Richards, Sam Elliott, Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Ben Walker

In a parallel world, people’s souls appear in the form of an animal friend, the so called “daemons”. The world is ruled by the Magisterium, a dogmatic institution that tells people how they should live and what is forbidden. The 12-year old girl Lyra lives with her “daemon” as an orphan in the Jordan College in Oxford. Her uncle, Lord Asriel, plans an expedition to the Arctic to research the phenomenon of the “Dust” that can apparently enable journeys to parallel worlds. The mysterious Mrs. Coulter shows up, whose “daemon” is a monkey. Lyra, after receiving a magical golden compass, travels with a ship north to the Scandinavia. She gets accompanied by Texan Lee Scoresby and talking polar bear Iorek Byrnison, whom she helped to find his hidden armor. Once on the icy Arctic, she gets captured but frees herself and her friend Roger. Together they fly to free Asriel.

“The Golden Compass”, the movie adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s book “Northern Lights”, the first of “His Dark Materials” literature trilogy, is another classic example of how a good director, like Chris Weitz, cannot make a great film if the studio bosses interfere and always take over the control during the final cut to make it more “family friendly” and “accessible”. As a result, the film had a mild box office result which ultimately toppled all ideas of a future movie trilogy. And then again, you can’t adapt a controversial book and turn it into a family friendly film by dropping all the controversial parts out – either you are consistent with it or you should not even touch the material in the first place. Even though the story is all over the place – the 12-year old girl Lyra travels from Oxford to the Arctic, meets a talking polar bear and witches - chaotic and bizarre, it still has some sparks of sharp observation, much more than the “Harry Potter” series, thanks to the basic premise that speaks about the organization, the shady Magisterium, that pretty much tells people how to live, how to act and what is forbidden, acting as agents for the higher being, “the Authority”.

Through it, the author obviously makes a huge critique of the religious dogmas, obedience, authority and free will, telling that people should think for themselves – but he made a colossal blunder when he placed a child as the main protagonist. Because, obviously, such adult and dark themes are not intended for kids, but are more appropriate for adults. Even Argento originally planned to have 12-year old kids play the main roles in his horror “Suspiria”, but eventually realized how inappropriate that is given the context, which is why he changed the main heroine into an older, 20-year old girl. The movie is filled with everything, but only two scenes are really inspired (when Kidman’s character Coulter tells Lyra that the “Magisterium is there to tell people how to act to continue to live normally” and the battle of the two polar bears, where one, seemingly stronger, screams “Is that all?”, which is then followed by the other ones victory who replies with: “Yes, THAT is all!”), and a possibly third one, a crucial one, the deleted ending that can only be found on obscure Internet videos and that explained so much about the plot, without which the whole films seems lost, incomplete, like a car without an engine. A diluted, though sufficient fun.


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