Film Critique for “the Golden Compass”

Film Critique for “The Golden Compass” The Motion Picture of “The Golden Compass” is based on Philip Pullman’s novel “Northern Lights” (The first part in his novel trilogy “His Dark Materials”) and was rated pg-13 (indicating that the material within the film could be unsuitable for children under the age of thirteen (Murray, 2012)), the movie was released to theaters in December of 2007.
This movie has been categorized as a Family, fantasy adventure (Carraro & Weitz, 2007); however, there have been serious debates about the religious aspects of the story, whether or not it should be geared for younger audiences and how the film eviscerated the novel’s version of the story’s backbone (Rotten Tomatoes, 2012).
Also read this Critique of Stuff Is Not Salvation

I will be reviewing all aspects of the movie including the storytelling, acting, cinematography, editing, sound, style and directing, impact of society on the film and vice versa, the genre and the overall textural themes to get a full understanding of the film and to show that in a whole, it was a very good story and was a fun movie to watch. The director’s vision of the story is how a film comes to life. Their purpose is not simply to help the writer tell the story but also to make the audience care about the story by giving the story meaning” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011, sec. 2. 5 para. 1). This film’s story is about a girl named Lyra Belacqua (played by Dakota Blue Richards) who is about twelve years old. Residing in a universe parallel to our own ruled by the Magisterium, people’s spirits reside on the outside of their bodies and walk beside them as companions in the form of animals (the type of animals depends on the person) known as “Daemons”.
Lyra was brought up as an orphan living amongst scholars at the Jordan College in Oxford. Lyra’s need for adventure hits a little closer to home than she had hoped when she realizes the hushed whispers of adults and members of the Magisterium speaking of dust and children who are going missing start to become pieces in a puzzle that lyra is determined to solve and with any luck, remedy the troubles that are being caused.
Aided by colorful and unusual characters such as the Gyptians (comparable to what we know as gypsies), witches, an armored bear by the name of Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen) and an airman named Lee Scoresby (played by Sam Elliot), Lyra must use the golden compass (also known as an Alethiometer, it was secretly given to her by her uncle, Lord Asriel to reveal the truth of any question she asks the compass) to find the truth and save the children being kidnapped by the gobblers (the kidnappers are a part of the Magisterium).
The actors in this film did an amazing job in the roles they played. Marisa Coulter (played by Nicole Kidman) makes for a gorgeous, classy, prestigious, intriguing and scary villain. Kidman’s Kidman not only plays the leader of the gobblers but it is also found out later in the movie that she is also Lyra’s mother. Then there is Lord Asriel, A well-dressed handsome man who plays Lyra’s uncle (however, we find out later that he is in fact Lyra’s father) and a well-known explorer. He studied and did research about the mysterious “dust” and the Arctic North (Carraro & Weitz, 2007).
Lyra’s character plays a pretty and hard-headed stubborn girl who is hell bent on stopping the gobblers and Mrs. Coulter from cutting the children’s deamons away from them and she also has serious ideas about locating and finding the purpose of the dust. There is also Iorek Byrnison and Lee Scoresby who appear to have known eachother from sometime in the past. They are both head strong characters and willing to fight for the greater good and aid Lyra in her travels to stop the gobblers. Iorek is a Big armored polar bear and Lee is and older airman. The cinematography used for this movie was quite extensive. There were 1,100 to 1,200 CG [computer-generated] shots, average for a film like this, but the level of complexity far exceeded most, there’s an animated character in just about every one of those shots” (Miller, 2012, para. 4). So this made making the film more extensive as far as the cinematography goes and there were many different shots ranging from close-up (there were many close-ups of several characters throughout the film), mid-range shots (especially when there was more than one character on the screen at any given time), as well as distant or long range shots (like when Lyra rode the rmored bear through the snow to find out what was in the cabin away from a camp site she was staying at). There were also shots angled upward (such as when Lyra and her friend were sitting on a rooftop together) and downward angled shots (such as when a mechanical spy bug was slapped to the ground and there was a downward angle shot of it lying on the ground) (Carraro ; Weitz, 2007). The cinematography used in this film suited every aspect of the movie.
Everything moved through the film very smoothly and the cinematography really made the scenes pop and kept me on the edge of my seat. The film editors for the film “The Golden Compass” are Anne V. Coates, Peter Honess and Kevin Tent. Anne V. Coates is a very well know veteran film editor “with an editing career of 63 years––and still counting––Coates arguably has been working in cutting rooms longer than anyone else in film history” (Lewis, 2010, para. 1).
However, Coates was removed for the editing of the “The Golden Compass” early on in the editing process and actually stated that even though she learned a great deal from “The Golden Compass” and it was an amazing experience working with large quantities of editing with special effects, it was actually a frustrating process for Coates due to the amount of work involving the special effects people as opposed to just editing a standard film with much less special effects being used (Connolly, 2011).
Peter Honess, known for editing such movies as “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Troy” as well as Kevin Tent known for editing such movies as “The Descendants” and “Sideways” were brought in on “The Golden Compass” to finish up the post production editing for the film.
While the finished product the film had many audiences asking when they would see the sequel to the film, there were many critics talking about how “the end result is a bumpy road, with many emotional highs but also quite a few lows, and a saga that despite good ingredients lacks narrative smoothness or fluidity, reaffirming that Weitz is not the right director for the job” (Levy, 2012, para. 22) not to mention the several parts of the film cut due to the mass controversies regarding religious groups.
The editors of this film did not receive their due credit because of the direction of the film and the cutting that was required to make the film “suitable” for public audiences. It took an amazing amount of people to create all of the different forms of sound used in “The Golden Compass. ” Ranging from the Foley editor, the sound mixer, to the sound effects editor, there are many more people that were just needed for sound work alone. There are quite literally 56 different jobs for this movie, just in regards to sound for the film. This just goes to show you the amount of work that is put into the making of a film.
I am going to discuss the three major elements of sound used in a film which involve the score, sound effects and Dialogue (Goodykoontz, ; Jacobs, 2011). Alexandre Desplat is the brilliant composer of the “score” (music used in the backgrounds of scenes) that is utilized in this film and is used throughout the films entirety. In fact, “Desplat follows Shore’s lead in the incorporation of a surprisingly detailed and large collection of themes, weaving them into the narrative with such efficiency that a person familiar with the film can easily follow the action through the score” (Clemmensen, 2008, para. ). Experiencing the music used for the score is truly amazing, even by itself. There is also a whole lot of use of sound effects throughout the film and a small handful of people working on them. A big part of the reason so many sound effects were used in this film is because so many of the characters used in the film were CG (Computer generated) so it was important to recreate the sounds that these characters would have made had they been real. Again, Ioreck the polar ice bear is a prime example of this.
When Iorek and Ragnar (The polar ice king) get into their battle to the death they are not only both created by computers so there very presence require sound effects but there is a lot of sound effects used with their armor clanking together throughout the battle scene. While the sound effects do play a very substantial role in the making of this film, they appear flawless and really added to the depth of the film. The dialogue is also beautiful in this film. The characters have sort of English accents (which suits the London type setting).
The dialogue used suites the characters well down to the way they are dressed. However, on a side note, I find it odd that they are from an alternate universe that has an impeccable resemblance and feel to our very own London, England. Lyra and her friends speak as if children would, grammatically incorrect and the adults speak prestigiously and very dignified (most of which are scholars). In its entirety, the all the use of sound was very well utilized and complimented every aspect of the film.
Director Chris Weitz was really excited about making this particular film because he is a really big fan of the books the movie was based off of. With a budget of 180 million dollars for the film, Chris Weitz knew that there was going to be a lot of work needed to be put into the film. “It’s really hard to make a movie,” Weitz says. “It’s hard enough to make a small, bad one — trying to make a big, good one is definitely a challenge to your physical and mental stamina” (Edwards, 2007, para. ). While there are many who wonder as to whether or not Weitz was the man for this particular job, mainly because Weitz is best known for his raunchy comedy movies such as the “American Pie” series, Weitz was such a huge fan of the trilogy he was confident that he could get the job done right (Edwards, 2007). Unfortunately, due to the mass controversy of this film it is difficult to discern why this movie was so disastrous when looking at how it did in the box office.
Some blame Weitz and his lack of knowledge in the field of special effects, some blame the media and the Catholic church for the role they played in trying to have the movie stopped and some blame New Line Cinema (the production company) for forcing Weitz to water down the script due to trying to appease people who were worried and controversial of the religious (or lack thereof) aspects the film would bring to the big screen. In doing so, Weitz said that he did not have control over the films style or editing.
Chris Weitz states that New Line Cinema felt they could not be a part of a film that caused controversy in the religious word but that the film would have been very different if he would have had the final say and cut of the film. Essentially in the long run Weitz was asked if he had regrets about the film, Weitz reply was “It’s the greatest professional regret that I have. “He compared directing to being Charles I of England, quipping: “Parliament can always cut your head off” (Nissim, 2011, para. 4). The impact the movie had and still has on society is extraordinarily controversial.
Because the movie is a fantasy adventure there were large quantities of people who took the movie at face value for its non-stop adventure and intriguing storyline. However, there were larger quantities of people who felt as if the movie was controversial due to the religious aspects people took from the movie. Bill Donohue (president and CEO of the Catholic League) stated that “these books denigrate Christianity, thrash the Catholic Church and sell the virtues of atheism” (FoxNews. com, 2007, para. 3).
However, due to the controversies that arose from the announcement of the film’s production, the religious aspects of the film were stripped from the script. “Some atheists and fans of the books aren’t happy, either. They say the studio has caved to pressure from the Christian right by sanitizing the tale for the big screen” (FoxNews. com, 2007 para. 8,). Pullman (the author of the book based on the film) was pleased with how the movie was done. He stated in an interview that “this must be the only film attacked in the same week for being too religious and for being anti-religious — and by people who haven’t seen it” (FoxNews. om, 2007, para. 16). The genre of this film is a mixture between family, fantasy, and adventure. While deemed a family film, it is not geared for younger children in regards to the story because it does involve children being kidnapped and adults removing the essence (spirit or as they are called in the film daemons) of life from the children. As stated previously, the film was rated PG-13. The film also depicts (although in non-detailed manner) the children’s essence (often interpreted as spirit) and referrers to them as daemons (pronounce dee-mons). So the movie may be considered offensive to religious families.
However, in a whole, if the age group is right, it is a fun family movie. The fantasy of the film is magnificent excluding the actual town they reside in which seems rather of the norm, of (like I have mentioned before) a London set town and streets. There are a lot of characters and creatures in this film that are solely done by CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) and they are absolutely amazing. The daemons (spirit or essence) that walk around with their humans are of all different forms of animals creatures depending on the character of the individual.
Lyra’s daemon however, can change shapes to appear in any form because she is still young (changing from a cat to a moth and even an ermine), adults daemons settle into a single form and no longer changes. There is also Iorek the polar ice bear who wears a magnificent coat of armor made for him alone. Last but not least, the adventure parts of the film. We watch see Lyra in her home town with her friends and the stuffy scholars (adults) she is surrounded by. We soon see Lyra get to experience life outside of the Magisterium (the school) with Mrs.
Coulter. When Lyra discovers that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the gobblers (the kidnappers), we see her escape and start her mission to save the other children from the gobblers and from them taking the children’s daemons from them. We see an amazing polar ice bear fight between Iorek and the polar ice bear king in which is a fight to the death and even a small war between witches, and Gyptians and even few flying (what looks to be) pirate ships called air ships. This film truly fits its genre.
Taking a look at this film from a formalist approach shows us the in-depth aspects of the film (Goodykoontz, & Jacobs, 2011). The structure of the film is balanced in regards to the aspects of use of fantasy and adventure used in the story. The fact that the storyline is based in parallel universe, the background of the town that the characters reside is lacking. It looks like a small town in England as opposed to what one would expect a town might look in a parallel universe like say, compared to Hogwarts in the “Harry Potter” movies and the magical world used in those films.
However, the use of the daemons and magical creatures like Iorek the polar ice bear bring us to a better understanding of the “magical” feel of the world. The use of the characters to progress through the story made the film easier to follow in the respect that the actors playing the characters made the film come to life. Essentially, the film was good, but was better not having expectations (having not read the “His Dark Materials” trilogy) going into the film. I personally felt that the movie was well done, but I too, went nto the movie not knowing of the controversy surrounding the religious aspects of the film and was unaware of the film being based on a series of books. The overall textual theme of the film was fairly well laid out. The story was told in a manner in which you expect to see more of the story later down the road (in a sequel that would not be made). There are several discussions regarding dust throughout the film that obviously plays a major role but is not explained in depth in the film. The Mise-en-scene used throughout the film fits together well with the storyline.
The characters, backgrounds and props used throughout the film carried the story in and out of the adventures we see Lyra embark on and allow the audience to experience a world not yet explored. The villain (Mrs. Coulter) was portrayed in such a way that the audience loves to hate and the hero’s (Lyra, Iorek and Lee) made the adventures progress and fun to follow. The camera use throughout the film is impeccable. With all different kinds of shots ranging from close-up scenes of the characters to mid and long range shots as well as jump-cuts from scenes of Lyra on her adventures to the villain trying to attempting to locate Lyra.
The overall theme, while lacking in some aspects of background (in the town the main characters reside) and explanation of certain aspects such as the dust which seems to be very important and how and why the daemons, were there and there importance because it is shown at one point in the film that the children can survive without their daemons if removed correctly. The movie was entertaining and tells enough storyline to not be confusing. In conclusion, this film had a lot of aspects of society and controversy and in turn the lack of storyline working against its success.
The money and hard work that it took to make this film should have been an enough to put this film on top where it should have been. But because the director had set out to make a film based on the story of a book and the studio decided that too much controversy would rise if the story was told like the book, the true religious aspects were stripped from the film and so the true storyline was stripped as well. But like I stated earlier, if the audience goes into the film with no expectations and no previous history of knowing what the film was supposed to be about, the film is well worth the watch.
Reviewing all aspects of what the movie has to offer; from the storytelling, acting, cinematography, editing, sound, style and directing, impact of society on the film and vice versa, the genre and the overall textural themes, this is truly an adventure that will keep you watching and enjoying the family film with every fun character from the interesting and exciting Lyra to the big polar ice bears that battle and the beautiful villain that we love to hate. This film was extremely fun to watch.

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New York University
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