Pith Helmet


Pith on Film: The Golden Compass
December 15, 2007, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Movies | Tags:

Wednesday, my employer gave me a shopping day. So after buying a few gifts, I headed to the local picture show to see The Golden Compass. It was 1:30. on a Wednesday afternoon, so I wasn’t expecting a huge crowd anyway, but when I entered the theater, I was still shocked to find that I was the only one there. I thought surely someone would be there: bored teens or a family who didn’t get the “Boycott Philip Pullman” email or even one of our few local flies-in-the-ointment. But there was no one except me. So I had to navigate the trek from Oxford to Svalbard solo. Not that I’m complaining. It is pretty cool having a whole theater to yourself. Especially when they rolled the I Am Legend trailer.


For anyone who has been marooned on a island for the last few months, The Golden Compass, a film from New Line Cinema directed by Chris Weitz, is based upon the first novel of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The story begins at Jordan College at Oxford in Brytain on an alternate Earth. It is a world in which air travel is by zeppelin, polar bears are intelligent and armored, and everyone’s souls are manifest outside their bodies in the form of an animal called a daemon.

Dakota Blue Richards stars as the central character, Lyra Belacqua, a child caught in the middle of a battle between the forces of free will and scientific inquiry as embodied by her father, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) and the forces of authoritarianism and obfuscation commanded by her mother, Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman). In spite of all of the stellar performers in this film, newcomer Richards stole the show.

Daniel Craig made a perfect Lord Asriel; but, Kidman’s Mrs. Coulter was a mild disappointment, seeming at times more caricature than character. Her daemon, a golden monkey, however, did give me the creeps. Once again, Sam Elliot has been typecast as the quintessential American cowboy, but that is simply because he is so damned good at it. He makes Clint Eastwood look like a New Jersey shoe-salesman. Sir Tom Courtenay has been one of my favorite supporting actors for quite some time thanks to his roles in Dr. Zhivago and King Rat, but his Farder Coram was nothing like the one I had envisioned from my reading of a quarter of the novel. Still, he did an admirable job with his subtler Farder Coram. Having been awestruck by Eva Green in Kingdom of Heaven and Casino Royale, I was disappointed by her performance as Serafina Pekkala, but that may have had more to do with the character than the actress.

Generally, I cringe when I hear a movie is dependant upon CGI. I think it has something to do with flashbacks to the Spawn movie and that bloody awful cape, but I was quite pleased with all of the special effects in The Golden Compass. The movie is worth seeing, if for no other reason, the daemon-deaths during the battle scenes. Visually, I would definitely say it is on-par with the Lord of The Rings trilogy and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and much better than that dreck that George Lucas churned out a few years back.

I still do not plan to take either of my children to see it, but that has more to do with the violence and just plain scariness. After all, Scooby-Doo cartoons still scare the “Zoinks!” out of my oldest.

In spite of all of the ado made about this film’s negative portrayal of religion, I would rank it no worse than The Three Musketeers in that regard. Although, from what I have read, the last volume of the book series has some material that would seem to justify the criticism launched by the Catholic League and others, there is nothing in this movie, standing alone, that I think would be theologically incorrect. But, then again, I was watching it all alone in an otherwise empty theater.

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