The Golden Compass (2007) - New Line 2-Disc Platinum Series

Genre(s): Adventure / Family / Fantasy
New Line || PG13 - 113 minutes - $34.99 || April 29, 2008
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-05-01


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.
Video

.:: A U D I O ::.
Audio

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Chris Weitz
Writer(s): Philip Pullman (novel "Northern Lights"); Chris Weitz (screenplay)
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliott, Eva Green, Ian McKellen, Ian McShane, Freddie Highmore, Kathy Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards


Theatrical Release Date: December 7, 2007


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:

    Disc 1:
  • Writer/Director Commentary


  • Disc 2:
  • 11 "Making-of" Featurettes
  • Theatrical and Teaser Trailers


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (DTS-ES 6.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1 EX), English (Stereo Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Note: This review contains some minor spoilers and brief sarcasm. Reader discression is advised.

Synopsis: In a marvelous parallel world where witches soar the skies and Ice Bears rules the frozen North, one special girl is destined to hold the fate of the universe in her hands. When Lyra Belacqua becomes the keeper of the Golden Compass, only she has the ability to read its portent messages and prevent her world – and all others – from slipping into an evil darkness.

In this review, I’m not going to delve too much into New Line’s financial woes, only to say that despite making over $350 million worldwide, it was basically a flop here in the States. And unfortunately for New Line, they sold off the international rights thus the profit margin is very small; I assume between DVD sales and selling the aforementioned rights, it made its money back and then some. As insignificant as it may be for you or me, the finances, or lack thereof, of The Golden Compass does play into what kind of film we could have gotten... in the future. You see, New Line banked on this to be their next Lord of the Rings. Whether or not it comes to pass for “His Dark Materials”, the novel series TGC is based upon, remains to be seen, though given how much money the sequels could make, you never know.

The Golden Compass doesn’t have the same epic feel of Lord of the Rings or even, to a certain extent, the Harry Potter movies, nevertheless it is quite entertaining from beginning to end, if not a tad confusing in the first few minutes and sometimes contained unintentionally funny scenes.

The movie contains some great acting, excellent special effects and an interesting story. First, newcomer Dakota Blue Richards as Lyla is good for her theatrical debut moving the story nicely along. I’d equate her performance to that of Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I don’t know what kind of career she’ll have but the fact that she wasn’t a trained movie actress gives me hope that perhaps she could have a lasting presence.

The filmmaker’s also decided to give TGC some star power with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Of course, I won’t even mention that other movie the two starred in together *cough* The Invasion *cough* which didn’t exactly set the box office on fire (nor impress the critics or audiences). Be it as it may, Kidman is kind of underwhelming as the villain of the story and Daniel Craig is barely in it all, thus earning the coveted “and” cameo credit (yeah, I realize he would’ve been more prominent in the future not-going-to-happen sequels). That said – and light sarcasm aside – the two of them give the film a weight it desperately needed.

The Golden Compass also features a who’s who of cameo voices from Ian McKellen (what kind of fantasy-adventure would this be without him?) as Iorek Byrnison the fighting Polar Bear; Freddie Highmore as Lyla’s daemon, Pantalaimon as well as Kathy Bates (who I think only had two lines), Ian McShane and Kristin Scott Thomas in other voiced parts. Plus Sam Elliott, Christopher Lee (of course) and Eva Green grace the screen, live and in living color.

Thinking about the movie now a couple hours later, I can’t help but notice how this really wasn’t a great film. For instance, about halfway through, Iorek fights the Ice Bear King for the throne (and to regain his honor) and although the scene was cool to watch and looked good, it didn’t serve the plot as a whole very well. But my biggest issue, and what keeps this from being a memorable fantasy-adventure flick, is the final battle sequence during the climax. There’s no fault from the animators nor the actors or even the actual story, even if it’s reminiscent of Return of the King, but why in the world did director Chris Weitz (About a Boy) choose to film it, or at least bleach it, in almost complete darkness? This is a huge finale, and yet I could not tell what the hell was going on. Come on Chris, didn't you see Roland Emmerich's Godzilla???

But overall, The Golden Compass is entertaining and even though it is open ended, I still think it’s worth watching. That said, given the box office failure, I wouldn’t hold onto much hope of a conclusion to this trilogy, so the story as a whole is left unresolved.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

New Line has packed their “2-Disc Platinum Edition” with a good amount of material that will fascinate fans of the book and DVD geeks alike. All featurettes, and even trailers, are presented in anamorphic widescreen.

DISC 1:
Writer/Director Commentary – Chris Weitz sits down for an informative commentary track that covers nearly every aspect of the film from bits of trivia to casting to the actual story (scenes not in the book). It’s a good track but I always feel having someone else in there would help liven things up some.

This disc also contains a selection of sneak peeks at other New Line films including Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D starring Brendan Fraser.

DISC 2:
Rather than going through each featurette paragraph by paragraph, I’ve lumped them all under one heading...

Documentaries (2:48:08) – This massive collection of featurettes gives insights into nearly every aspect of making The Golden Compass, though if I had one complaint, I would’ve liked to have seen a more complete on-set making-of along the lines of Lord of the Rings, but as it stands, this was still great.

The documentary starts off with The Novel (19:06) which covers the origins of the novel, titles “Northern Lights” before it became “The Golden Compass” by accident. Author Philip Pullman contributes a great amount of material on how the novel came about and his early days when he first started writing. Next, The Adaptation (16:10) focuses on writer/director Chris Weitz, how he came onto the project, his eventual resignation as director before coming back on after his replacement left over “creative differences” with the studio. I’m still not sure why New Line chose Weitz for the project, however. Finding Lyra Belacqua (15:08) goes through the process of an open casting session where thousands of young girls auditions for the part of Lyra before filmmakers’ dwindling it down to the then unknown Dakota Blue Richards. DÆMONS (19:54) shows how the little creatures came to be from designs to visual and special effects. The Alethiometer (14:56) covers the development of the main prop of the film but how it was made was far more complicated than I imagined. Production Design (26:01) and Costumes (11:47) give behind-the-scenes glimpses at the more stage elements. Although they’re not all that interesting, it gives the documentary completeness. Rounding this out are Oxford (7:30) which goes to the famous University; Armored Bears (17:41) which shows the technical aspects of creating the bears (and getting the voice talents of McKellen and McShane); Music (11:49); and The Launch (7:57) where the cast and crew gather for Cannes and finally the world premiere as well as how newcomer Dakota handles the media blitz.

This disc also contains several galleries (DÆMONS, Alethiometer, Production Design, Costumes and Armoured Bears) and 3 trailers.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

The Golden Compass on DVD looks excellent, even if the climactic scene is in a blue darkness. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 2.35 OAR. Colors look good and the picture itself is, for the most part, sharp. The tone of the film has a cool feel to it with some warm colors coming early on before toning it down as Lyla and the others make their way to the Arctic.

New Line is probably the best at providing viewers with great audio options, and TGC is no exception. For this disc you have the choice between DTS-ES 6.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Comparing the two, the DTS track is solid but it’s not to say the Dolby Digital one isn’t good either. Also, for some reason a Stereo Surround track is also available. Why, I don’t know.



.::OVERALL::.

This “New Line 2-Disc Platinum Series” DVD is packed full of features. While these features aren’t as all encompassing as I’d like – I think I’m spoiled by The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – but what is here will keep fans interested. As for the movie, despite some minor flaws, The Golden Compass is an entertaining fantasy-adventure that has (had?) potential to be a fine franchise. Given the film grossed over $350 worldwide, and even with a subpar showing in the States, I’ve got to think New Line (or Warner Bros.) will make the sequels. At the very least, though, the rumored deleted scenes made for the sequel should be put back in so that this film can have some closure.