I saw The Golden Compass. And.....
Well. As I alluded to - and will probably allude to for the rest of my life, since it was so awesome - I met Philip Pullman in late October. I asked him for his opinion of the film, and he very diplomatically replied thus: the casting and performances were great, and the look of the film was terrific.
I have to say: I concur with Mr Pullman on this one.
The look of the film was utterly dreamy. A gorgeous, steampunky, Victorianesque world - zeppelins, and an amazing carriage, and Lee Scoresby's balloons, and the clothing. Lyra's Oxford looks more or less the way I always imagined it - like my own experience of Oxford, which was roughly 12 jet-lagged hours in late summer, golden and dreamy and glowing and mysterious.
The casting, and the acting, is TO DIE FOR. Really, I don't think I could have done better if I'd been in charge. Sam Elliott is perhaps the best: he IS Lee Scoresby. and Kathy Bates voices the laconic Hester to perfection. Dakota Blue Richards, who plays Lyra (and has been spoken extremely highly of by Mr Pullman himself) was great as Lyra. A little sneery, a lot bold, a little afraid, a lot wary - she's a great Lyra. I particularly love that she is not too refined, too clean, too pretty, too made up (as Emma Watson is, as Hermione). She LOOKS like she could be Lyra. My Lyra isn't quite so narrow of face, but Dakota Richards has knocked this one out of the ballpark.
And then Ms Kidman, Nicole herself, as everyone's most frightening villainess: Mrs Coulter. The CGI golden monkey is a true horror, really scary and creepy. Kidman has always been my perfect casting choice for this part, and she really is astonishingly Coulteresque. There was a bit more coldness and glamour, and not enough sweetness, but otherwise: lovely.
Daniel Craig as Asriel is an acceptable decision, but he gets way too much screen time. Likewise, Eva Green makes a lovely Serafina Pekkala, though I always pictured her as fair-haired, but felt a little too stagey at one or two moments. The gyptians were pretty great, though John Faa was less dignified, and Farder Coram less frail, than in the text.
Iorek Byrnison is another marvel of CGI work, but I cannot feel great about Ian McKellen voicing him. McKellen's a marvellous actor with a wonderful voice, but there's something a little too slushy for Iorek. Iorek's voice ought to be clean, deep, sharp, cutting. At times, McKellen sounds just a bit too slushily old for the part.
The actual story - well, I knew they'd take liberties, but frankly, I'm DEVASTATED by the conclusion. The permanence of the intercision is glossed over, and the interiors of Bolvangar made me think of Tim Burton's Charlie & the Chocolate Factory in a way that jarred rather unpleasantly. Characters are collapsed, or removed: Martin Lanselius, the consul at Trollesund, disappears, and the information he reveals is instead told by Scoresby and Serafina. I've always been very partial to that chapter of the book - the consul and the bear - but I can see why this needed doing. The Magisterium becomes much more of a presence, in a very unnecessary way, and we get a very dumb extended scene of Asriel being captured, in which he comes off as something much less than the strong, authoritative, proud man he really ought to be.
But the film is truly beautiful to look at. It can't help that NO film could ever capture the lyricism and emotional truth of the novel. How could any image say : "That was intercision, and this was a severed child"? How could any image convey the heartbreaking horror of Lyra's encounter of Tony Makarios in that fish-house? Or the complicated, bewildering themes of Iofur Raknisson's wish to be what he is not? (Iofur gets a name change, by the way - he becomes Ragnur or something, I suppose to avoid aural confusion with Iorek).
The golden compass itself is perhaps my LEAST favorite part. Lyra's ability to read the alethiometer comes slowly, gradually, with work - that chapter is titled "Frustration." It brings with it responsibility, weariness and awe, all of which the film dispenses with. Everyone continually refers to it as The Golden Compass, which is merely a descriptor in the text, not a name it's known by. And the gimmick of golden swirling d(D)ust as Lyra deciphers the alethiometer was appalling. Part of why the alethiometer works as a literary device is that it is mysterious; Lyra goes into a trance, and we NEVER know what she's seeing until she attempts to verbalize it. I've never imagined her readings to be a series of images, but something more....ephemeral. impressions, feelings, senses, not photographs.
The film's ending is a travesty. that is all i shall say about that. If new line decides to film the following two books, I should like to be Creative Consultant. I can't quite see how they'll dig themselves out of the ending satisfactorily, but - hey. who knows? in hollywood, anything is possible. I think a more sensitive director would have done a better job - someone more attuned to the glory of the book(s).
I do have to say, when Iorek and Iofur/Ragnur fight, and Iorek wins, the audience I watched with broke into applause and cheers.
I really will stick with the books on this one: they have an elegance, a beauty and a truth that no film could ever translate.