Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Golden Compass Points True North

I was among the legions of moviegoers who swarmed to see The Golden Compass this weekend. A massive fan of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (consisting of the Compass, The Subtle Knife & The Amber Spyglass, all very enticing titles), I hoped the film would live up to the book. I rarely go to movies, especially not of books I've savored, because the adaptation to screen often elides critical material or changes important aspects to fit a 2-hour timeframe, which can be frustrating. But The Golden Compass did not disappoint.

While the movie did indeed change and compress the book somewhat, the visuals were strikingly similar to my imagination; it was as if the director/producer/set designers climbed inside my mind to deduce how best to translate such a richly fantastical tale to the Big Screen. And while I found myself rather breathless at the pace, it's worth seeing on many levels.

Foremost is the delicious controversy the film is generating, initiated by the Catholic Church. Having remained staunchly silent as the Harry Potter books and films took the world by storm, they have apparently decided this film is the one to boycott. And, of course, as controversy is wont to do, this stance only makes people more curious and more likely to go see it!

The premise, at a basic level, has to do with the forces of good and evil, free will vs. control. It's a marvelous testament to following one's inner guidance, defying authority to do what's right, no matter the consequences. Since this is intrinsic to human DNA, it's easy to find yourself cheering 11-year-old Lyra as she consistently outwits those who stand for order and oppression to seek the Truth, wherever that journey may take her.

And this is another triumph of Pullman's book and the movie: a heroine rather than hero. Make no mistake, I love Harry Potter,'s inspiring to see a young female protagonist.

So while the film lacks the book's nuances and story development, not to mention more leisurely pacing, I highly endorse it. If you have the time, read the trilogy and then go enjoy the movie versions. I feel sure parts 2 & 3 are in the offing, because The Golden Compass movie concludes with many loose ends just like the book, putting us on notice that there's more to come.

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