I just went and saw The Golden Compass, a feature-film adaptation of the first installment of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I ready these books a few years ago during the long lull between books four and five of the illustrious Harry Potter series, and was very impressed. Pullman tapped into christian mythology in a creative and innovative way, and managed to merge the fantasy and science-fiction genres beautifully.
I had seen a trailer for the movie in which gold-gilt airships featured prominently. I am a huge fan of dirigibles, and so was particularly excited about the visuals I had seen. I sat down in the theatre with a sense of excitement.
Let me sum it up. The movie was good, but not at all the movie I was expecting to see. The visuals were, as I had anticipated, amazing. The airships were fantastic, though a bit rare. Lyra’s Oxford and London were brilliant. The armored bears were, in a word, spectacular.
Some of the casting choices were inspired, other’s somewhat unexpected. Nicole Kidman as Ms. Coulter was an excellent choice. When I first saw her in the trailer, I was immediately sure she was the right choice. Sam Elliot was a better Lee Scoresby than the one in my imagination. Dakota Blue Richards gave me cause for concern at first, but she pulled off Lyra brilliantly. The ubiquitous Christopher Lee made a brief appearance as the First High Councilor, and Ian McKellen voiced Iorek Byrnison. Sarumon and Gandalf all over again, why mess with great chemistry?
The makers of the movie made some very wholesale changes. An entire race of people (the Samoyeds) were added. The anti-church rhetoric was definitely softened, and many important plot elements were modified or lost completely. Two major plot sections were switched. The entire Bolvanger scene was moved till after the Svalbard, resulting in a plot hole not quite large enough to guide a battalion of armored bears through.
But most disturbingly, the entire end of the book was sacrificed to the gods of suspense. It is obvious they are planning to make the next two books into movies, but leaving the movie at the point where they did would have been like Peter Jackson leaving the Fellowship of the Ring off while the party was standing in front of the gates to Moria. An interesting place to stop, but not at all the one anyone would have been expecting.
All that aside, the movie was quite enjoyable. It is imperative to go into a movie based upon a book with an open mind, as changes are inevitably made. If you’ve read and loved the books, or listened to the BBC dramatization, you might find yourself puzzled, but if you’ve never picked up any of the trilogy, go see the movie, then head on down to Indigo and pick up the books.
Then let me know if you, too, find yourself hoping there’ll be more airships in the next movie.