2007, Movies

The Golden Compass (2007, Chris Weitz)

This is a pretty-looking but witless family fantasy film which fails to function as anything more than a pale Chronicles of Narnia imitation and the ending of which truly shows how ill-conceived this whole thing was.

Nearly any movie which has to explain its world in the opening scene worries me from the start – sometimes you can pull that off but usually it’s a bad sign.

But it’s clear even after the exposition that something is off: we’re plunged right in but not much feels natural. There is a sense of heightened unreality which doesn’t feel deliberate, but feels like it is the product of poor pacing or editing. What it really feels like is scenes might be missing. Now, I don’t know if some of the scenes were actually cut due to fears about the source material, but it sure feels as though the film doesn’t unfold exactly right. Sure, it hits all the cliche notes of these types of stories, but it hits them awkwardly.

I didn’t know it was a family fantasy movie going in, so I was surprised it was so children-focused. That isn’t the films fault but I’m sure at least some of my lack of enjoyment of the plot came form the fact this was not intended for me. Still, I can imagine a version of this story that doesn’t feel so awkward, that doesn’t feel like the stars are just in the film to try to give it a false sense of quality.


But the most ridiculous thing about this film is how nobody seemed to know it was no good. Like so many fantasy, adventure and science fiction films of the aughts and teens, this was an attempt to launch a franchise. (Think Narnia, or Harry Potter or whatever.) And it’s transparent: there’s no ending to the film, it’s just “on to our next adventure!” You should never be that sure unless it’s the second movie and the first one was a hit. When it’s your first movie, and it’s this mediocre, it comes off as hilariously arrogant and inappropriate. What a stupid ending.


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