Earlier this year, THE GOLDEN COMPASS was one of my most anticipated movies, I've in fact waited for it ever since the film was first announced years ago. I read the book when I was 12, and the rest of the trilogy when I was 20. I can say that Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy is one of my favourite fantasy trilogies of all-time.
But as the film's release date got nearer, it started getting horrible reviews, averaging a measly 43% at Rotten Tomatoes, and then Sebastian told me last night that it sucked. Maybe because of them, I ended up entering the cinemas this morning with zero expectations, fantasy films of the past two years hadn't been that good anyway. ERAGON and STARDUST were stinkers.
I don't remember the GOLDEN COMPASS book (I bought mine in UK, so it was called NORTHERN LIGHTS instead. Just like 'HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE' vs 'HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE', UK and US have different titles for the book) since I read it eleven years ago, so I could only remember certain scenes vaguely.
Which is a good thing, since I can watch the film with fresh eyes, without the burden of subconsciously comparing it to its source material.
It's hard to imagine Chris Weitz directing a big-budget film like this when his previous works were AMERICAN PIE, ABOUT A BOY and AMERICAN DREAMZ, but I can say that he's pretty competent here. Although maybe he's still not experienced enough to handle such a collossal project, so he couldn't really allow audiences to immerse themselves into the world of THE GOLDEN COMPASS like Peter Jackson did with the LOTR films.
Yes, the visual effects are nice, the protagonist Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards, a newcomer who did pretty well here) is interesting enough to engage my attention (unlike the very flat protagonists of Eragon and Stardust- Eragon and Tristan Thorne), the supporting characters (Nicole Kidman is in only 20 minutes of the film, while Daniel Craig and Eva Green are merely glorified cameos) are likable enough, and the whole 'daemons' idea was executed really well (all characters in the film are accompanied by animals that represent their souls... something like that. For the kids, these daemons shapeshifts) there's still this faint sense of artificiality about the world portrayed in the film. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't blown away either.
The film is unspectacular until Lyra runs into the more interesting characters, like Sam Elliot's Lee Scoresby and the Ian McKellen-voiced armored ice (polar) bear, Iorek Byrnison. Then the film truly picks up, and I started to see some nice setpieces, like Lyra entering the Svalbard, fortress of the ice bears, and the duel to the death between two ice bears, the final fight ain't too shabby either. Yet it's too late. The film merely shifts from 'mediocre' to 'somewhat entertaining', if the film had remained 'somewhat entertaining' from beginning to end, I may have a better impression of it.
Not to say that I think it's a shitty film, it's infinitely better than STARDUST or ERAGON, nearly as good as some HARRY POTTER films but not quite (most Harry Potter films are consistently entertaining), had some parts that are just as good as the so-so THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE... actually, come to think of it, I think I'll put Narnia and The Golden Compass just about equal. I wasn't as blown away by THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE as Sebastian (befuddlingly) was.
I don't think I like the film, nor do I hate it. I enjoy it enough towards the end to look forward to the sequels, SUBTLE KNIFE and AMBER SPYGLASS, which, I think can be really awesome if done properly into films, since the story gets so epic in scale that it's almost mindblowing, and they also have one of the most bittersweet romantic subplots I've ever read in a fantasy trilogy.
Unfortunately, the box-office returns of the film's first day hasn't been that impressive in US. It made only 9 million, so at most, it can only make 30 million in its weekend box-office (in comparison, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA made 65 million in its opening weekend back in 2005). Sorely lacking for the 180 million-budgeted film. Unless it has amazing legs, this might actually be one of the year's biggest flops!
Are people tired of fantasy films already? Maybe. Too bad this might end the possibilities of the sequels as well.
First 5 minutes of The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass trailer