Talking Movies

December 15, 2019

From the Archives: The Golden Compass

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A shockingly humourless bore that is even more tiresome than 2005’s Narnia. The first thing to go with fundamentalists, whether they are religious fundamentalists or atheist fundamentalists like Philip Pullman and Richard Dawkins, is always the sense of humour. It should come then as no surprise that there is only one gag, involving Sam Elliott’s daemon rabbit, in The Golden Compass. Philip Pullman fans have whinged that the message of the book has been neutered. One can only wonder how stridently didactic the book’s Anti-Catholicism is if that’s true, because it is painfully obvious here that The Magisterium is the Catholic Church, which must be EVIL because all the actors playing its members have adopted the camp Nazi mannerisms of ’Allo, ’Allo. Beating the mortal crap out of Catholicism is of course socially acceptable, we just shouldn’t hold our collective breath waiting for Pullman to do a similar hatchet job on Islam or Judaism. Such bigotry makes the posturing of the Oxford dons about ‘tolerance’, and the existence of the daemons as the incarnate souls of each person, preposterously illogical.

Director Chris Weitz thinks that if he throws enough CGI at the screen and sets the orchestral bombast at a (noticeably) ear-piercing volume he can distract from the pathetic script. He’s badly mistaken and the result is just plain boring. Heroine Lyra Belacqua’s carefully cultivated Mockney accent, despite being the niece of Lord Asriel (played by Daniel Craig, for literally 7 minutes), is incredibly irritating and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards lacks the acting chops to overcome such a fatal character detail. At no point do we care about Lyra’s fate, even when imprisoned by Nicole Kidman’s typically anaemic villain. Some actors do salvage something from the wreckage though. Ian McKellen is clearly enjoying himself far too much voicing an armoured polar bear, as is Sam Elliot in a reprise of his Big Lebowski role as an Old West character comically out of place, while Eva Green’s cameo as a flying witch queen should convince everyone that she needs to play the lead in the new Wonder Woman movie.

The final showdown at an arctic Magisterium facility that is half mental hospital, half convent school, is the occasion for some more deeply confused Catholic-bashing as children are separated from their daemons. ‘Dust’ and Sin are hilariously equated before a comically inept Empire Strikes Back style “No Lyra. I am your mother!” revelation occurs, which is then ignored in the rush to get to the badly choreographed ‘epic battle’ and much speechifying to set up the plotline for a sequel or two.

1/5

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