Skip to main content

Review: The Golden Compass

I saw The Golden Compass twice in less than 24 hours (the first viewing was on Friday, at the little cinema on Baker Street, truly a terrible place, where seats collapse, screens are tiny, and, in this instance, a badly-marked and inaudible print was run), and the second time, the sound was as it should have been.

I read the novel on which the film was based about nine years ago, in Budapest, and enjoyed it immensely. The introduction of a talking polar bear, and a cowboy balloonist, among other elements, was as quirky as the anti-theology was thoughtful, and the plot was gripping. Lyra seemed a classic character. I didn't expect the film to be this good, simply because I feared the rather English essence of it (based on Exeter College, Oxford, and other very British traditions, like stiff-upper-lip explorers) would be drained away (as was done with The Dark Is Rising film, ruining it).

Instead, the movie is a treat to watch. It is very retro in feel, and texture - a bizarre cross of Oliver Twist, Pippi Longstockings, and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. To that should be added the other obvious, if startling, filmic inspiration, Dune (a film that one day will be seen as brilliant). The movie is, as Peter Bradshaw has noted, far stranger than anyone could have hoped it might be. The shadowy close-ups of aging British movie icons, the art deco zeppelins, the old-fashioned, thrillingly strident music, and the unusually slinky Mrs. Coulter (Kidman) make the film run like a very classic show from the start.

That being said, the movie is so good, it reveals the weakness of the novel it is based upon. Most everyone says Pullman is a master-storyteller, but that is not true - more interestingly, he becomes a better writer as his trilogy progresses, and in this first novel, Northern Lights, what were clever were the elements (the souls outside the body, the off-kilter anachronisms) - not the overall storyline. In short, the film exposes the lack of any central dramatic journey in the work - yes, there is a race to rescue children, but the battle for their lives is won easily, and no powerful resistance is made - and so the film ends with a great sighing anti-climax. Meanwhile, the theology and anti-God stuff putters along, a little winded and alone, by the side of the main plot, basically bewildering and unfun. The Magisterium (aka The Church) seems as threatening as a museum - simply a big dull place to wander in, and its members are either sexy women, or weak-looking men. Their one weapon is an automated fly that is quickly cupped in a normal glass. Okay, they also have an ineffectual recourse to poison Tokai. The cutting machine is dispensed with so simply, it comes across as a gizmo, not the ontological-killer it is.

The movie works as a great children's yarn, full of wonder, innocence, and spectacle. The sequels, if there are sequels, should up the darkness and danger factors, considerably. And also include a genuinely engaging dramatic issue to be resolved.

Still, well worth seeing. Twice.
2 comments

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!