The Golden Compass Review

Somewhere, there’s a version of The Golden Compass that hasn’t been subjected to an editing block. Somewhere, there’s a version of this story with the holes filled in, expanded characters, and explanations. This is not that version.

Dakota Blue Richards stars a young girl who holds the Golden Compass, and item that can answer any question. It’s wanted by numerous people, some for good and some for bad. The fantasy world in which it exists is actually a parallel to our own, though this is barely explored.

That’s the problem with The Golden Compass. It’s eager to show audiences a world of fantasy that it moves too quickly and skips too much. From the start, it seems as if Daniel Craig will be the key character alongside Richards. Then, Nicole Kidman takes over. Finally, there’s a switch over to an animated bear voiced by Ian McKellen. In-between, there are even more unexplained, rapidly disappearing, and completely underdeveloped characters. There are stories of other worlds, the mysterious dust, and the separation of daemons (souls in this universe that live outside the body) from children.

It’s an absolute mess of ideas, many of them grand, but none of them explored. There are brief moments of the religion bashing Catholics made a huge deal over, but it’s so lightly handled, it’s going to be forgotten. Nicole Kidman is a bright spot, a member of the organization/religion and perfectly evil. Her performance is a brief saving grace, but like every other character, is tossed aside for much of the running time.

Special effects became an Oscar winner, and the world of Compass is quite lavish. However, the constant barrage of CG animals becomes tiresome. Have we really reached the point where dogs need to be animated in the midst of live action? Talking animals are one thing, but barking dogs?

To top it off is an abrupt ending that comes right when things may pick up. There’s plenty of talk about what the characters are about to do while it sets up a sequel, yet fails to give any closure at all to the story you just spent two hours with. With a poor US box office (although excellent worldwide), sequel chances are probably slim leaving this feeling unfinished and disappointing.

Even despite the constant barrage of characters and pacing, the story tends to sag and slow down to the point of boredom. There’s little to care about given the limited character development, and the adventure has few moments of danger or fun. There are far better, more developed fantasy films out there to take up your time. Golden Compass feels like a shell of something trying to be much larger in scope.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

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Why studios continue to destroy transfers with DNR remains a mystery, but Compass is a victim. Facial detail is non-existent, replaced with a pasty, blocky look. Artifacting is evident on a regular basis. It’s a shame too, because without the digital alteration, this likely could have been a five star presentation. Colors carry plenty of pop, the image depth is superb, and black levels never waver. Despite the DNR, the transfer appears relatively sharp, the source is pristine, and there are no instances of edge enhancement. It’s a shame it barely looks hi-def at times.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

New Line delivers a 7.1 DTS-HD mix for this one, and for the most part, it’s well rounded. Bass is the show stealer, especially when the polar bears become central characters. Every footstep and roar has weight to it. The surrounds are well engaged, from distinct chatter during a dinner scene, to guns being loaded on a boat. Ambiance is high.

Sadly, during the action, the entire thing sounds overblown, with little directionality. It’s also poorly mixed in terms of dialogue, with the action coming in about 10 decibels higher than the speaking parts. It’s aggravating, almost as if the track is compensating for the lack of positional audio. That said, there are numerous moments of distinct rear sound, but given the plethora of action, it seems sedated compared to the visuals.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

A commentary from director Chris Weitz is also available in a picture-in-picture view, detailing various behind-the-scenes featurettes. Disc two includes a massive, all-encompassing documentary that clocks in just short of three hours. It covers everything, from the young star Richards, the original books, the author, costumes, and effects. It’s split into numerous sections, and each one offers various still galleries to go along with it. While this is, at times, too praising of the material, it’s still a deep look at how the movie came together. There’s also a trailer for the film if you needed that for any reason.

Extras ★★★★☆ 


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