Directed by: Chris Weitz
Premise: In a fantasy world where each human has an animal counterpart that constitutes his or her soul, a young girl (Dakota Blue Richards) is given a magical talisman that is sought by The Magisterium, an elite organization that controls civilization.
What Works: The film has a unique mix of characters, including a cowboy (Sam Elliott), a witch (Eva Green), Egyptian royalty (Jim Carter), and a talking polar bear (voice of Ian McKellen) and the environment is an interesting mix of new and old technology.
What Doesn’t: The Golden Compass has been designed to follow on the heels of 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but the material suffers from following this model. The story and themes of The Golden Compass are far more mature and sophisticated than those in Narnia and would have been much better envisioned following a look used in the original Star Wars or Blade Runner. The story has more characters than it can balance in a two-hour film and each supporting cast member enters the story only to stay on the periphery, rarely engaging with the heroine and rarely doing anything of substance. The journey of the young heroine is devoid of cost, revelation, goals, or accomplishment and the story lacks any foreseeable endgame for the characters to reach for. It is unclear why the Magesterium fears the golden compass or why this little girl is so exceptional to be the subject of a prophecy. The polar bear fight, which ought to be one of the major set pieces of the film, is an apt microcosm for the rest of the picture; there is no apparent story reason for the fight, nothing is gained by it, and what starts as a fun idea quickly becomes ridiculous, peaking in a ludicrous climax. The film follows the same pattern, establishing interesting ideas in its opening but never expanding upon them, just restating those same ideas over and over again. The story ends up being a collection of disconnected events that end in a climax that comes out of nowhere and does not really resolve anything. The film simply ends with nothing accomplished and huge holes are left in the narrative.
Bottom Line: The Golden Compass is not a very good film. The plot is disconnected, the journey leads nowhere, and the film gets stupid when it should be inspiring. The picture aspires to The Chronicles of Narnia and The Empire Strikes Back, but its much closer to Eragon and Attack of the Clones.
Episode: #169 (December 9, 2007)