The Golden Compass - 3 stars

There really haven't been many times in my life where I have been the sole person in a theatre who has enjoyed the movie. I am generally more critical of problems and less forgiving of mistakes; it is a fault of mine. This is especially pronounced when it comes to adaptations of material that I enjoy, or even remember enjoying (for instance, I was somewhat dubious of the first Narnia movie). But in this case, even with so many strikes against it, I was probably one of the few that really enjoyed The Golden Compass. And I find that regrettable.

It doesn't hold a candle to the book, of course; it tries to be faithful and it suffers for it. Most concretely, it narrates the world's background rather than simply showing it - and this ruins some small part of the initial wonder of the daemons[1], not to mention a few other elements of the movie that would have been better being introduced later.

But the true delight of the movie is the daemons, the animistic souls of men that live with but separate to their master/partners. The daemons seem a bit clunky at first, as they are introduced as more important than their partners instead of equals - but soon they just start to blend into the scene, where they belong. As the relationships become more subtle, it makes up for the earlier heavy-handedness; and soon, they are just natural parts of a whole, as they are supposed to be. This most intriguing of ideas is actually explored in a vaguely reasonable way, and I was both relieved and exhilarated at the success.

Most intriguingly, I found the battle sequences much more engaging than in most movies, and more emotionally moving as well. The difference was the daemons - when the human dies, the daemon turn to dust. This makes the battles more real somehow, as the relatively innocent daemons fall with their masters; and certainly, it feels much more tragic. It's been a long time since a simple battle scene has made me flinch so much - and all because I saw a bunch of dogs turn to ash.

That said, my criticisms - the plot suffers from, essentially, being on fast-forward. Little is left out (except the last 50 pages or so, as I recall, so that they could have a reasonably tight cliffhanger ending), but, again, much is told rather than shown.

Much of the religious subtext is... well, muted. It's there, and it's even clear, but it's not as unrelenting as the book was. To be clear, the Catholic League's protests are legitimate for once - this is a story that is truly anti-Church and anti-Christian, at least in its original form. I find this absolutely fascinating, and while I won't get into it too much for fear of spoilers... well, I hope make more movies in this series, just so I can see the reviews.

And surprisingly, the aletheiometer - the titular Golden Compass - is not particularly utilized during the movie. The book gave me the impression that Lyra was growing addicted to the device through the story; the movie made it seem more incidental.

Anyway - I enjoyed the movie. I am sad that others didn't enjoy it so much, but I suspect that reading the book first helped immensely. If you've read the books, you'll probably want to see the movie; and regardless of the movie, you should read the books (or at least the first one).


[1] I always pronounced "daemons" with a long-A. Oh well. I'm not changing just because the movie, and probably the author, disagree.