In Which The Panserbjorne Overwhelm Us With Their Sexual Mettle and Lack of Magick

the problem with these images is that they make the golden compass look good

It’s All About the Alethiometer

by Alex Carnevale

The Golden Compass

dir. Chris Weitz

119 minutes

The worst movie of the year, in terms of what was expected of it and what was delivered, is Chris Weitz’ adapation of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

Featuring five boring minutes of Daniel Craig, 15+ of Nicole Kidman playing a parody of herself, and a sexual relationship between a young girl and a polar bear, this has to be the most mindnumbingly frustrating film made in some time.

My cat daemon is cuter than your cat daemon.

The fun of the book was in its slow reveal of wonderment. This is thrown out the window in the film’s odious opening minutes, in which the audience is told directly of the things that make the world of The Golden Compass different from our own: a soul manifestion in the form of an animal that settles into a particular shape upon adulthood, the presence of the forboding Tartars, Svalbard’s group of bears, and Witches, a Catholic Church called the Magisterium threatening to eliminate sin. Getting all the good stuff out of the way means we can take no real pleasure from the splendid special effects done by Rhythm and Hues. In Weitz’ Golden Compass, childish eyes will not open wide, and adult ones will not become childish.

The central conceit of the compass itself was that it was a truth telling machine. A fearsome plot apparatus, the fun of it is having the film’s central character, 12 year old Lyra, find her way out of sticky situations by learning the truth, and thus escaping from doom. She’s like the anti-Odysseus.

Her agency is compromised by a series of somewhat bizarre and untrustworthy individuals (gypsies, aeronauts, clergy, academics, military men) who offer her help as long as she needs it for no particular reason. The book’s message of female empowerment is completely undermined, and the men get castrated for serving a 12 year old girl. Who exactly does one root for here?

we will have less friction and a more satisfying sexual experience without armor, Lyra

“Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” — Josh Ritter (mp3)

“I Will Always Love You” — Whitney Houston (mp3)

That’s right, ice bears. It’s the climactic battle between Iorek and Ragnar that got our audience cheering a little bit, but in reality, bear fights are pretty boring, it’s like hugging with claws. The original Iorek was fired and replaced by Ian McKellen, adding a meta-textual layer to the boredom.

The movie does get away with some neat shots at Catholicism, and they’re all well deserved. That the filmmakers intended to empty the movie of anti-Catholic sentiment makes sense–they’re cowardly about every other decision of interest in the film, from the dark nature of kidnapping children to the soul-splitting device found in the Artic, to the film’s final battle and retarded ending.

the poster was the first mistake, bear fights don’t sell tickets, and it’s way too star wars

Early returns have agreed–the film is likely to be a tremendous bomb. Imagine how much Juno cost to make.

A quick glance at the Ain’t It Cool Newz behind the film is textbook for how to ruin any creative work. New Line replaced Weitz and when he came back to the film, he had still never read the original script by Tom Stoppard. I’ll have to find that adaptation somewhere–there’s no chance it wasn’t passable.

Weitz got caught admitting he was partial to Star Wars and Barry Lyndon allusions in this one. This actually makes sense–neither film is very good about the magic part of the equation, and focused more on the progression of events.

Modern plastic surgery can return me to this, my little Ozymandias

It’s easy to think this is what The Golden Compass is about, too. Its whirlwind pace and multiple settings aside, the film is actually very simple. It is about what children can see that adults cannot, and the answer is magic. Pullman, a C.S. Lewis hater and a talented storyteller, invents a world boring from the full view, and yet magnificent in its details. Not surprisingly, Hollywood found it easier to turn this on its head.

I will give Steven Spielberg one billion dollars to turn this movie into an enjoyable remake.

Hell, I bet I could assemble a movie that’s a thousand times better than Weitz’s Golden Compass just from what they shot here.

Lyra walking on the broken glass of the holiday film season

“Suite Bergamasque 3 Claire De Lune” — Alexis Weissenberg (mp3)

The Golden Compass is extremely violent for a film marketed towards children. It appears, in fact, that the filmmakers forgot entirely what it was like to be a child, or how little it takes to amuse one. The wonderful conceit of the daemon that Pullman came up with — an animal soul creature attached to the main body, is a stroke of genius. Instead of sympathizing with Lyra’s daemon, Pan, we could care less about the annoying mouse/cat/hummingbird/ferret.

Since the film’s entire stakes hinge on the idea that we do care about this reinvention of the soul concept, it’s rather sad that we don’t, at all. Daemons go up in clouds of dust during the hundreds of killings in the film, and yet, we care not for what has happened or why it has happened.

The film’s pathetic acting doesn’t help matters. Sam Elliott is disastrous as Lee Sorensby, Daniel Craig has about as much charisma as the anamatronic tiger that serves as his daemon, and the lead actress, in her debut, may at least avoid the young trappings of fame by virtue of the sheer suckitude of her first appearance on celluloid.

“You ruined my career, betch.” “Right back at you motherfucker.”

With about 700 loose ends and less idea of what it is about than Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl, The Golden Compass is a disaster of a film from a decrepit studio in New Line. What they are doing to talented writers and directors is nothing short of savagery. The previews were more interesting than the film itself. Find something else to do instead.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He lives in Manhattan.


Josh experiences the fun of bun.

Stalking becomes so easy it’s barely worth the effort.

The truth about the sexes.

8 thoughts on “In Which The Panserbjorne Overwhelm Us With Their Sexual Mettle and Lack of Magick

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