ianmcdonald (ianmcdonald) wrote,

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Golden Compass thoughts

To the Storm cinema (yes indeedy) to the VIP theatre (forty reclining leather armchairs with INFINITE REFILS OF POPCORN! which is a chiz seeing as no one can eat more than one of them salty bastards) to see The Golden Compass
Hmm. I like it a lot, though there were serious failings, but I think these were due to the inherent unfilmability of the books. Books and movies tell two very different types of stories (TV tells a third) but more on this later. I think it would have seemed very disjointed were you not at least familiar with the books --you could see where a much bigger film had been hacked to bits in the cutting room, and there were a number of post-edit continuity gaffes.

There were some deft little touches however --the line right at the start about a '99 tokay' was genius, showing us that this was the present --2007-- in an alternate universe. And the sense of the Multiverse --the biggest idea in fiction-- was nicely conjured. For me, alternate worlds and parallel universes succeed by that sense of alienating familiarity: it's recognisable, but dislocating in its strangeness. The failure to do this was what made Sliders such ineffable shit. (However, my own trick in Brasyl was to emphasise how tiny the differences were between the Brazils, rather than huge clunking gulfs like 'and in this alternate world, Brasil was colonised by Vikings.) The alternate Oxford, with its surfeit of dreaming spires, worked, as did the flight into London, even if the city seemed strangenly underpopulated.
I thought some of the design a little disjointed, veering between Oliver! and Cecil Beaton (more of the latter would have been truly startling --but how nice to see Lyra defeat da bad guys in a pair of Ugg boots.)

Some reviwers have complained about the lack of a single hissable villain. Oh come on. Institutional villainy is always much more realistic and harder to overthrow, though Simon McBurney radiated pure oleaginous menace through a simple comb-over. And Christopher Lee was wasted (though I suspect he may yet appear in the end-game, if the rest ever get filmed). The main problem, I think, is that cinema is a simple medium. There are limits on its ability to convey ideas as ideas, and His Dark Materials is idea-heavy.

Central to the story was getting over the idea of the daemon as the external soul. Some reviewers have complained about the narration at the start which sets it up bit I think it worked ok. The protrayal of the daemons was at once a strength and a weakness. Some of the CG was woeful --Pantaleimon in cat form was a cringe-worthy Garfield clone and the monkey never really convinced. Kathy Bates crackled, however, as Hester, but it was never consistently established whether everyone could hear everyone else's daemon. What startled was that when a human was killed, the daemon evaporated in a cloud of golden dust, and that made every single death in the big fight at the end much more poignant. It also made for a hell of post-production job.

This brings me on to the originality of Pullman's world. This is very far from tired Medieval fantasy bollocks and all the better for it. Trollocks bollocks. Like all other fantasy, it is deeply rooted in myth and legend, but the source is fresh and un-muddied by too many feet drinking from it. I liked that (in the books, the film wisely made no attempt to steer that way) Lyra's worlds are a fantastical take on the paradigm of a 20th century quantum universe, rather than a medieval one. It takes some time to get into this world, and movies are not good at elaborate scene-setting. That there was constantly something intellectually new and stimulating to take in on screen (as oposed to someone chasing or shooting someone else) kept the pace going.

Campest moment of the year was probably two RSC thesps hamming it up as the panserbjorn in a bit of Ian on Ian action--here the CG worked brilliantly. I did feel that the Gyptians could have been better set up --rather than them running merrily through the Isis meadows, why not have them on the barges, as in the book?

Much as I love Kate Bush, the song sucked. Badly. Mockney accents... no. Just no. Nicole Kidman... well, just being Nicole Kidman is scary and evil enough. Jack Shepard did a good line in intellectual anxiety. More Daniel Craig please--and he was badly thrown away in the third act.

But hey! I can forgive almost anything for Sam Elliot as an absolutely cracking Lee Scoresby.

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