Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Golden Compass (New Line 2-Disc Platinum Series)

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
5 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter
Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel
Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua
Ben Walker as Roger
Freddie Highmore as Pantalaimon (voice)
Ian McKellen as Iorek Byrnison (voice)
Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala
Jim Carter as Lord John Faa
Tom Courtenay as Farder Coram
Ian McShane as Ragnar Sturlusson (voice)
Sam Elliott as Lee Scoresby
Christopher Lee as First High Councilor
Kristin Scott Thomas as Stelmaria (voice)
Edward de Souza as Second High Councilor
Kathy Bates as Hester (voice)

Special Features:
Feature Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Chris Weitz
The Novel: Author Philip Pullman and the Consequences of Curiosity
The Adaptation of Writer/Director Chris Weitz
Finding Lyra Belacqua: Introducing Dakota Blue Richards
Daemons
The Alethiometer: Creating the Truth Measure
Production Design: The Emotional Fabric of a Parallel World
Costumes
Oxford: Lyra's Jordan
Armoured Bears: The Panserbjørne of Svalbard
Music
The Launch: Releasing the Film
Trailers
Image Galleries

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX Sound
6.1 DTS-ES Discrete Sound
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 113 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following is from the DVD description:

"Based on author Philip Pullman's bestselling and award-winning novel, 'The Golden Compass' tells the first story in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. 'The Golden Compass' is an exciting fantasy adventure, set in an alternative world where people's souls manifest themselves as animals, talking bears fight wars, and Gyptians and witches co-exist. At the center of the story is Lyra (played by newcomer Dakota Blue Richards), a 12-year-old girl who starts out trying to rescue a friend who's been kidnapped by a mysterious organization known as the Gobblers - and winds up on an epic quest to save not only her world, but ours as well. 'The Golden Compass' stars an ensemble cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, and Ian McShane."

"The Golden Compass" is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence.

Mini-Review:
I wanted to like "The Golden Compass," but I was incredibly disappointed with the final product. It is, unfortunately, mind-numbingly dull. There are several reasons for this. The first is that the characters throw out a bunch of made up names and fantasy terms that make little to no sense. The plot quickly loses you. Another problem is that there's a TON of exposition in this story. Much of the running time is simply one character throwing out these oddball terms and explaining the situation to another character. This seriously bogs the pacing of the film down. All of this is so tedious that by the time you get to the real action in the story, you simply don't care about the characters or anything going on. And you surely don't care about seeing a sequel.

Like many moviegoers, I heard about the anti-Christian accusations leveled towards "The Golden Compass." I personally thought they were absurd. After all, I had heard similar ridiculous accusations made towards "Harry Potter," "The Lord of the Rings," and even "Star Wars." So I went in with an open mind. I was a bit surprised to see just how thinly veiled some of the attacks were, though I would characterize them as more anti-Catholic than anti-Christian. You see characters that were akin to evil nuns in Catholic school. You see characters conducting their own version of the Inquisition. You see battles between religion and science. The anti-Catholic feelings of author Philip Pullman were as thinly veiled as the Christian influence of C.S. Lewis in the "Narnia" books. It's hard to imagine that New Line actually toned this down from what was in the book. It was certainly a distracting and negative aspect of the story.

All that being said, "The Golden Compass" did have a few high points. The production design is quite impressive. The sets, props, and characters are fun to look at and have imaginative designs. The special effects are OK, but they certainly didn't deserve to win an Academy Award over "Transformers." Nothing in this film tops the complexity of the CG robots in that film. It's a bit of a travesty that "The Golden Compass" won. This film does have an impressive cast. Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Freddie Highmore, Ian McKellen, Eva Green, Sam Elliott and the others do adequate jobs considering the material they had to work with. I would have liked to have seen them all working with a better script, though.

I'd only recommend "The Golden Compass" to fans of the book. Fantasy fans might also be a bit more forgiving of this movie than others. In the end, though, it proves that it's not as easy to replicate the success of "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" as some studios might think.

On this 2-Disc Platinum Series, you're absolutely bombarded with bonus features. Normally I love this kind of featurette overload, but I'm disappointed to report that it doesn't work here. Like the movie, the bonus features are rather dull. All the discussion of the book adaptation, shooting on location in Oxford, and the special effects is ultimately pretty boring.

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