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"The Golden Compass"

Directed by Chris Weitz.
Written by Chris Weitz.  Based on the book by Philip Pullman.
Starring Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Eva Green and Daniel Craig.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  12/10/07


Meg and I went to the movies over the weekend; I left the choice to her, and she selected "The Golden Compass", the latest "Lord of the Rings" copycat novels-to-movies that attempts to suck your cash away.

In a world that seems either very distant, very now, or very futuristic depending on what you are talking about, a little girl named Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) gets involved in a quest involving a crystal ball-like object called an Alethiometer, a cowboy named Sam Elliott (played by none other than...Sam Elliott), an evil baroness (Nicole Kidman), a talking bear (voiced by Ian McKellan), an adventurer (Daniel Craig), evil government or religious types called The Magistrate, and sidekicks called demons who seem to possess the soul of their human owners.

All of this makes for a bit of a mess at times, but by using this film as a setup for at least two more films, "The Golden Compass" does a decent job of setting up the future films.

Naturally, I have not read the book that this film is based on (written by Philip Pullman), but it does appear that Hollywood has suppressed any religious overtones from the novel by keeping things pretty vanilla...evil is represented by The Man, not necessarily Christians or Jews or Muslims or even Big Government.  The Man has a nice ivory tower in the middle of one of the major cities in the film, and all of The Man's people seem to be white, but otherwise, this could be The Empire for all I know, and I think that this is a good idea for the kids' sake, because all they care about is magic, and goblins, and flying hot witches, and talking bears.

The movie itself feels very familiar for an adult like myself, and while I thought the film was very consistently engaging, I never felt like it was aspiring to be "great."  This starts with the choice of Richards as our lead Lyra; at times, she is very good...and, at other times, some mix of her presence and the lines she is asked to speak made me not like the Lyra character at all.  She was a little too child badass for my taste; at times, she scared for her life, and then at other times, she is right there, smack-talkin' with bad guys.  Ahh, no.  The rest of the cast is great, right down to the voice work done by McKellan and Ian McShane (Swearengen from the "Deadwood" series on HBO) as the two big bad bears who need to square off late in the film.  I thought the special effects were nice, but not spectacular; I laughed every time that Elliott (who only seems to be able to play mustachioed cowboys who carry Winchesters) was onscreen.

Meg liked this more than I did, but I think both of us--having seen things like the "LOTR" movies and "The Chronicles of Narnia" and other such fare--thoughts that "The Golden Compass" didn't exactly blaze a new trail with its filmmaking.  Writer/director Chris Weitz (the "American Pie" films and "About a Boy") does serviceable work here but now that this film is on the path of money-making trilogy, he'll have to step it up a bit to improve on the critical nature of these films.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09