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The Golden Compass Father-Son Review


PARTIAL SYNOPSIS (from www.imdb.com)
Lyra Belacqua is an orphan living at Jordan College in the Oxford of an alternate universe. In Lyra’s world every person is accompanied by a daemon, a physical representation of their soul in animal form. Because she is young, Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon can change his shape to appear as any animal he chooses. Adults’ daemons settle into one shape and don’t change.

Lyra overhears a conversation between the master of Jordan College and Fra Pavel, a representative of the powerful and sinister religious body called the Magisterium. They’re discussing an expedition to the far north planned by Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asriel; he wants to study a mysterious substance called Dust that seems to enter Lyra’s world from parallel universes.

Even before we meet Lyra, boys and girls have been disappearing, snatched off the streets. The children call the kidnappers Gobblers. Lyra and her friend Roger promise one another that if either is caught, the other will come to the rescue. That night, while Lyra is at dinner being introduced to Mrs. Coulter, Roger and another friend, Billy Costa are taken by the Gobblers.

Lyra is taken with her new acquaintance and agrees eagerly when Mrs. Coulter, who is also planning a trip to the far north, proposes that Lyra come along as her assistant. The morning of Lyra’s departure, the master gives her a strange golden instrument called an alethiometer. He tells her that it is capable of telling the truth, but he can’t tell her much about how it works. He admonishes her to keep the alethiometer to herself…

I saw The Golden Compass with my son Connor on opening day after reading the book to him. I promised y’all a dual father-son review at the time, but life intervened. Here it is at last, a few weeks before the DVD release…


review by Connor McGowan (12)

I thought the movie was very good, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “Why did they skip through that so fast?” and “What happened to that other thing that he took a whole chapter explaining in the book?” After the movie, my dad agreed with me but explained that you can’t fit a book that large and detailed into a two-hour movie and keep it interesting for kids.

I remember thinking the same thing in the first Harry Potter movie. One of my favorite scenes in the book was the potions room in the dungeon, when Hermione solved the task. I was SO MAD when they left that out! But they have to make choices, I guess.

The special effects were just amazing, especially with the snow bears and the daemons. But I didn’t feel the same connection between the daemons and the humans as I did in the book. I wanted my own daemon more than anything.

Overall for me, keeping in mind the limitations of the movie’s director, I liked it enough to see it again. Unfortunately, it did horribly on its opening weekend and there were only a handful of people in the theatre with us.


review by Dale McGowan (45)

[NOTE: I’ve reconsidered and rephrased some of these comments in the next post.]


10. It’s bloody difficult to make a 2-hour reduction of a book of the scope, depth, and texture of The Golden Compass. That said, they blew it.

9. Despite predictions to the contrary, it is made entirely clear that “the Magisterium” is the church and the Authority is God. The officers look like catholic cardinals, the Magisterium buildings are decorated with saints and icons, Asriel is accused of “heresy,” its opponents are called freethinkers, and Mrs. Coulter refers to the “error of our ancestors” that brought “dust” (sin) into the world. Plenty clear.

8. The human/daemon relationship was made so intensely real in the book that both Connor and I longed for daemons of our own. This was the most remarkable, most brilliant, most emotionally captivating element of the book, yet the movie fails to make daemons anything more than beloved pets.

7. In the book, the witches are thousand-year-old beings, transcendent and wise, with an entirely different perspective on existence, amazing and original seers and sages. In the movie, they fly. That’s about it.

6. I spent the six months prior to the film’s release depressed because I thought chirpy, doe-eyed Dakota Fanning had been cast as Lyra. Turns out it’s Dakota Blue Richards, and she’s PERFECT. Strong, petulant, independent, but also vulnerable and good.

5. The music is absolutely terrible — a combination of overwrought wallpaper (never shuts up) and Mickey Mousing (imitates small visual actions with musical gestures).

4. The bear fight, despite some fine CGI, somehow manages to be a yawner.

3. Sam Elliott is spot-on as Lee Scoresby.

2. Coulter’s monkey is exquisitely creepy and hateworthy.

1. The ending is indescribably, epically, abysmally lame.

Anyone who has not read the book should read it before seeing the movie, then skip the movie. [Fine. That was over-the-top. See the movie.]



This was written on Monday, 31. March 2008 at 11:33 and was filed under reviews. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but the picture of Connor is great! (You’re a cutie too.)

    Comment: Karen – 31. March 2008 @ 3:57 pm

  2. I loved the books when I read them years ago during the few months that I was a Young Adult Librarian (just plain-old librarian now). The only way I could describe to a childless friend my feeling that my newborn daughter needed to be near me was by equating it to the human-daemon relationship (next to me, fine; across the room, okay; in the other room, ack!). When I saw the trailer for the movie, I was very excited, momentarily, then I realized it was two hours and Hollywood so took a wait-and-see attitude. At this point I won’t ever see it and will make sure my kids read the books before they see the movie.

    I just started rereading the first book again: Great!

    Comment: AmyS – 31. March 2008 @ 5:07 pm

  3. Good to hear the reviews. We never saw it, but I think we’ll rent it when it comes out. I could only assume that it would be a little disappointing. I’m really bummed to hear that they don’t portray the daemons better…

    Comment: matsonwaggs – 31. March 2008 @ 11:03 pm

  4. The visual rendering of the daemons was perfect, but the emotional element was almost completely unexplored. All they had to include was one or two moments when Pan flies or walks too far from Lyra and that breathy sadness sets in… Oh well.

    Comment: Dale – 01. April 2008 @ 8:10 am

  5. As a counter-opinion, I think Dale is a little too harsh on the movie. I agree that it’s isn’t as good as the book, but what movie ever is as good as the book it is based on?

    I especially disagree with Dale’s comment about the ending being lame. I think the choice they made the end the book there makes sense in light of the fact that they were planning to make a movie of the 2nd book as well. Starting the 2nd movie where the 2nd book starts would be incredibly confusing for viewers, especially those who hadn’t read the book, or who had seen the first movie or read the books awhile ago and didn’t remember the ending of the prior book well.

    Starting the 2nd movie, if they ever make and release it, where the first movie left off would instead give readers much more of an entry into the 2nd movie.

    I agree with most of the rest of Dale’s specific points — the daemon relationship wasn’t handled as well as it could have been, the witches weren’t as cool as they should have been, etc; however, I did like the bear fight.

    What I disagree with is Dale’s conclusion that it isn’t worth seeing. Despite not being as good as the book, I really enjoyed the opportunity to see a visual representation of Lyra’s world, and I thought the visuals in the movie were really stunning. The actors did a fabulous job — Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, and Lee Scorsby especially were very well portrayed.

    I think the movie is a nice companion to the book, though certainly not a substitute in any way. Also, I think the making of the movie encouraged some people to read the book who otherwise would have never heard about it.

    My recommendation: Don’t rush out to buy a copy when it comes out on DVD, but it’s certainly worth the price of a rental.

    Comment: CampQuestAmanda – 01. April 2008 @ 1:50 pm

  6. Yes yes, I’m completely overstating my case. It is certainly worth the price of a rental. My disappointment is largely fueled by the fact that, por moi, the things that were lost in translation were those most special about the book.

    I especially disagree with Dale’s comment about the ending being lame. I think the choice they made the end the book there makes sense in light of the fact that they were planning to make a movie of the 2nd book as well.

    That’s true. I know about the transition issue, so the ending does make sense. But “making sense” is quite different from “not being lame.” 🙂

    What movie ever is as good as the book it is based on?

    Not too many, that’s true, but there are some. The Godfather, for one, and Harry Potter 3, 4, and 5.

    And let’s not forget The Passion of the Christ. (Heh.)

    Comment: Dale – 01. April 2008 @ 2:29 pm

  7. I would have to disagree with you about the Harry Potter films. Not one of them has been worthy of the books from which they were made. Now a good adaptation IMO was Lord of the Rings. Definitely not worthy of a replacement but all the vital elements were there and most of the characters came through and some were even better in Peter Jackson’s version than JRR Tolkien’s

    Comment: ondfly123 – 01. April 2008 @ 4:14 pm

  8. Oh yes, the Lord of the Rings films were brilliant! As for the Harry Potter books v. movies, to each his own, of course, and more people agree with you than with me, I know.

    Though I’m impressed and amazed with her ideas and her ability to interweave mythic threads, I’ve become quite cranky with Rowling’s clunky prose style and dialogue. It didn’t hit me so much the first time through, when I read them to Connor, but now that I’m going through again with the girls, I find myself irritated more often than not and wishing she had a more courageous editor. Or any at all. Again, just one shmoe’s opinion here.

    And HP3 the Film was SOOOO flippin’ good, I continue to feel that it at least measures up to the book, even though 1 and 2 fell pretty far short.

    Comment: Dale – 01. April 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  9. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to see this film. I tore through the His Dark Materials trilogy in under a week, I just couldn’t put the damn things down! I feel like if I never see the film I can hold on to that feeling and that world that was created by my imagination.

    That being said, I am intensely curious to see the world portrayed in a visual manner and I’m afraid I am going to have to cave and see this eventually.

    Now, Harry Potter, the damn marketing staff at Warner Bros. lures me in every single time. With each film I find myself in that movie theater at midnight on opening day expecting to finally see a picture that doesn’t entirely disappoint. The only time I have come away happy was after Prisoner of Azkaban. Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix were especially disappointing.

    The movies are still worth seeing though if only just for the film scoring, though I wish they’d have stuck with John Williams for GOF and OOTP. “Hedwig’s Theme” is one of my favorite movie themes of all-time. I still get chills every time I hear it.

    Comment: ThatOneGirl – 01. April 2008 @ 5:14 pm

  10. I wish they’d have stuck with John Williams for GOF and OOTP. “Hedwig’s Theme” is one of my favorite movie themes of all-time. I still get chills every time I hear it.

    YES!!!!! I studied film scoring at UCLA in the late 80s and was always trying to get my fellow snobs (see how I include myself?) to see the brilliance of John Williams (dare we call it Williance?).

    Schindler’s List alone would have been an unbeatable accomplishment, but his list goes on and on. And YES, Hedwig’s theme must certainly be one of the great movie themes of all time. The whirling triplet sixteenths in the strings, the celeste, and the fabulous side-slipping harmonies…It’s unbearably, unbeatably spot-on.

    Now look what you’ve made me do. I have to go change me knickers.

    Comment: Dale – 01. April 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  11. I love Hedwig’s Theme! Didn’t know what you were talking about till I clicked on the link and recognized the music, shows how much I know. I get chills with that too – it manages to be suspenseful, creepy, beautiful and sad all at once.

    I agree with your comment on Rowling’s prose too. I remember having the same thoughts several times while reading the books. I still enjoy the plots and character development, though. Of course, I have a difficult time reading fiction these days when I used to devour it at the rate of 1 book every day or two.

    HP 5 was disappointing to me because of all the things they left out!! The logical “they can’t possibly fit it all in” somehow doesn’t help the disappointment.

    We haven’t read any of the Dark Materials books, but I plan to some day. We had planned to add the movie to Netflix, but I’ll read the book first. (damn it, that list never ends…)


    Comment: ondfly123 – 01. April 2008 @ 9:25 pm

  12. Thanks for posting the Hedwig’s theme link. Soooo beautiful!

    Comment: Karen – 02. April 2008 @ 12:37 am

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