The Golden Compass: a side-by-side review
Before I get started, let me come right out and say that I just finished The Golden Compass for the first time on Friday. I haven't been a lifelong fan like some people, so my opinions are going to be based on a newcomer's view of Lyra's world.
I loved the book. I haven't been so caught up in a story since reading Trickster's Choice, when I'd come back to my desk after lunch and find that my mind was still back with Aly and her spying. In the week or so of lunch breaks it took me to read The Golden Compass, I spent a lot of time wishing I could blow off my real work and go back to what Lyra and the gyptians and Iorek Byrnison and Lee Scoresby were up to.
I found all the characters believable, I loved the daemons, and the world was pretty masterfully created. I liked tough, plucky Lyra and her cast of supporters very much. Like the later Harry Potter books, The Golden Compass is definitely not intended for children or sensitive teenagers. The scene where Lyra and Pantalaimon were nearly separated made me cry, and the bear fight was pretty intense.
I did find that the big revelation about the nature of Dust at the end felt sort of tacked-on. The whole story could've proceeded just as well without it, and in a way it seemed like Pullman created a world with magic and depth and then at the end decided it needed to Represent Something Bigger. But, like I said, I've only read the first book once, so I'll have to see how I feel when I've finished the other two installments.
Now, for the movie. As always with a movie based on a book, there's no possible way to get every detail onto the screen. The film did a good job covering all the major segments of the plot, and even though at first the transitions between them seemed sort of choppy, I did eventually get used to the pacing. The things that were added and altered made sense for the presentation / pacing on the screen, and the casting was flawless. The effects were beautiful but not overwhelming. It never felt like the director was showing off, or that the movie was simply a showcase for the CGI wizardry. I especially loved the armored bears, and the spectacular battle at Bolvangar, where Tartars, gyptians, and witches clash in the snow.
I haven't read much of anything about the "controversy" surrounding the film, though a cursory Google search revealed charming headlines such as "Christian Groups Claim Pro-Atheist 'Stealth Campaign' in Nicole Kidman Fantasy Film 'The Golden Compass.'" (A pro-atheist stealth campaign? Oooh! Nefarious!) And apparently the Catholic League put out a pdf booklet called The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked. Oh, my. Anyhow, the movie was somewhat sanitized for public viewing, and everything was vagued-up. The Magisterium was presented as a shadowy government agency and the Catholic church was never specifically mentioned. Dust was presented as something that causes people to have "bad thoughts."
As usual, if people hadn't made such a fuss over the movie as an attack on Christianity, most of the non-reading film-going public would have never made any connections at all. In fact, after the movie, my mom (whose parish priest apparently wrote an anti-Golden Compass diatribe involving the phrase "endanger your immortal soul") overheard several people in the restroom saying, "I don't get it. There wasn't anything in there about the Catholic church at all!" That said, the film--like the book--is not for very young children. I heartily recommend it, but I also recommend that parents see it on their own and decide for themselves if their kids can handle the action and the scarier scenes.
I hope that the movie gets lots of people interested in reading the books for themselves, and that people decide to watch and read and decide for themselves whether or not the religious kerfluffle is all a bunch of nonsense.
**SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT**
**SERIOUSLY, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. IF YOU GO FURTHER AND ARE DISAPPOINTED, YOU HAVE NO ONE BUT YOURSELF TO BLAME.**
Some of the darker elements of the plot have been diluted or left out. The children with their souls cut away are glossed over a bit, and instead of finding Tony Makarios in the shack by the lake, Lyra finds Billy Costa. Billy doesn't die, though his daemon is gone. The horrible scene in which Lyra and Pan fight for their lives at Bolvangar is much shorter and less wrenching. However, the bear fight is NOT as toned down as I expected. I really did not think they would show Iorek tearing off the bear king's jaw, but it happened, exactly like in the book. When it happened, about ten people in our theater actually cried out in surprise and horror, and a little kid almost started crying. It's not an overly gross scene, there's no blood at all, but gah.
The movie has the scene of the children escaping from Bolvangar and the events at Svalbard reversed, but after the movie was over, it made a lot of sense. The movie ends after the battle at Bolvangar, with Lyra and Roger setting out to find Lord Asriel. I'm sure a lot of purists will be horrified, but I think it makes a lot of sense as a film to have the story end there, instead of with Lyra alone (except for Pantalaimon, of course), her best friend dead, and her illusions about her father destroyed for good.
In a way, I'm glad I didn't find out about these books until now, because I can't imagine reading the first one and then having to wait around for the second to be published.
Oh, and just for fun, go to www.goldencompassmovie.com and take the quiz to meet your daemon. I've got a fox named Archeleron, and MB has a moth named Aspasa.
Labels: Philip Pullman