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The Golden Compass

When I first heard about the possibility of a "Northern Lights" movie (Which is still how I think of it today, in spite of its Americanisation) I was very excited. Since then I have been through just about every emotion about the movie. I ended up at the end, possibly predictably, vaguely optimistic, but with some trepidation as to what they would do with what is, after all, my favourite books.

It's actually quite hard for me to tell whether or not I like the movie. Some bits of it were amazing. I had been quite happy when Kidman was cast as Mrs. Coulter; I was pleased as I felt she could play the role competently. I was wrong. Kidman's Mrs. Coulter was not just competent, she was just about perfect, far better than I thought possible. Likewise Sam Elliot was perfectly cast as Lee Scoresby. Another pleasant surprise was Dakota. I had been sceptical about her abilities in the role since I saw the first teaser trailer. Fortunately, for the most part, see was very good. The only weaknesses I would pick upon were where she had only one line – these would often come across as forced.

There were however, things about this film I didn't like. Whilst things have to be changed when converting a book to a movie, some of the changes to the plot were nonsensical to me. Changing Iorek's reasons for banishment from killing to being defeated just weakened his character, and saved them nothing. Likewise, reordering the plot so the Svalbard bears fight came before Bolvangar was equally pointless. I also didn't like the steampunk theme they went with. Whilst many people will love that, it's not what's in the books, and it doesn't even match the feeling of the book in my opinion. Examples of this are: The Gyroscope carriage (makes no sense! How could that in any possible way work?), the photogram projector (Had animated pictures – very Harry Potter-esque), Lee Scoresby's balloon being an airship rather than a normal balloon, and for some inexplicable reason, all the fires at the beginning of the movie are green!

There were other issues as well. In places, the cgi effects were spoiled by mistakes. At one point, while Iorek is running away from the camera, you see his feet continue to travel along the floor. In another scene, the camera panning in on a zeppelin looks quite dodgy, and the glass looks very plastic. The most annoying, as far as I'm concerned, was the appearance of a window between worlds at the beginning - it looked cheap and rushed. If they look like that in TSK/TAS it will be a travesty. Also, the bears watching the dual on Svalbard seemed almost non-existent. Apart from a few growls and roars they did nothing, and didn't seem to even acknowledge him at the end of the fight.

One ting that has just dawned upon us, sat writing in our corner of Starbucks, is that the character of Fra Pavel is completely changed. In the books, he is a shy, retiring aleithiometerist for the Consistorial Court of Discipline, with a frog daemon, who doesn't appear until the third book. In the movie, he is a zealot, campaigning to shut Asriel down, with a beetle daemon. It appears they are setting him up to be Father Gomez. This left us wondering why they would do that, and the only thing I can come up with is that they are trying to keep any characters who have the title "Father" in the name out of the films. There could be another reason for this, but I can't think of it. I can understand them trying to remove the religious connotations of the name, but I don't see why they had to completely change a character’s personality rather than just drop a character's title.

However, there were still many positives. The cgi rendition of Dust is just about spot on, and is used to fairly good effect during the aleithiometer reading scenes (although these do get a little annoying by the end – they occur too frequently, and take slightly too long!) I was also very impressed with the gyptians, while their appearance was briefer than in the books, and while I am slightly annoyed that they took out the roping, I felt they all played their roles very well, and were probably the most interesting set of characters. The other part that worked well was the fight scenes. It would be pretty hard for New Line to have made a bear weighing a couple of tonnes crashing down on an unfortunate soldier NOT look really impressive, but it still makes you grin. The Ice Bear fight was also quite good, although a little short, and there was no attempt to show that Iorek was faking with his weakened paw (apart from, of course, using it to rip half Ragnar's face off). However the two bears seemed very solid, and you get a real sense of energy when they crash together (helped by the soundtrack at that point – lots off bass!), and at the end of the fight, Ragnar's body makes a very, solid, satisfying thud as it hits the floor.

Of course there is one other problem I haven’t yet mentioned… The Song "Lyra" by Kate Bush (Played in the closing credits). This is probably the WORST song I have ever heard, and after the 30 seconds or so it took for me to exit the cinema when the credits started, I was prepared to stick rusty forks in my ears to stop the pain.

Overall, I am torn over this movie. It's defiantly worth seeing, (And I will go again on release day, so new line get my £5 out of me) but I can't really see myself making repeat visits. There are many good points to this movie, and the bits where it is strictly following the books are VERY good, but there are also large amounts of it that are very... "Meh", and these detract from what otherwise could have been a very good movie.

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The soundtrack to the Golden Compass lies, as the book does, with recurring themes. The key of each piece within the music seems relatively similar to each- even though the music is an auditory pleasure, there are few themes and variations thereof. Having said this, the music is entirely relative to the film; Mrs Coulter’s theme is sinister and quiet, and gives a feeling of hidden danger and cautious approach, perfectly matching both the character and the portrayal. Lord Asriel, on the other hand, gives no such hidden agenda. The theme is strong and powerful, bringing back the melodies seen in the first few pieces, only this time low brass and loud percussion lend a majestic air to the piece.


Often new motifs are introduced by harp glissandos from low to high notes, flute runs and great swelling of the musical direction that occasionally puts John Williams’ famous style into mind. Within some tracks, there is chorale support to the main theme, which further adds to the multitude of parts, and lends a beautiful addition to the main strings.

Although the main theme of a film is a crucial element to any soundtrack, there should still be variety in key, tone and even genre throughout a film to suit the situation, but in most instances, the recurring theme of the film remains the same. Regardless, the music still holds the audience captivated within cinema, and it turns out to be surprisingly easy listening as a soundtrack alone- easier than a lot of Mozart music. The lows are deep and supply a great backing to the beautiful floating and melodious tune- the repeating theme is, in most instances, a light and airy motif. The orchestra is most definitely competent- a whole range of artistic tones is used, from pizzicato (plucked) strings to a whole dynamic range.

The music in the film does gradually become more of the same towards the end of the disc, however, it has given a real insight into the symbolism of the films – although the melodies are quite simple and easy to listen to, there are far deeper motifs below. The repeated main theme lends a great sense of comfort to the listener- that although there are many subtle differences between this soundtrack and others, there are great similarities and give a feel of the familiar- and perfectly sums up the alternate universe the film is set within.

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