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DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: The Golden Compass: 2-Disc Platinum Series (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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The Golden Compass: 2-Disc Platinum Series
Directed by Chris Weitz

Studio: New Line
Year: 2007
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 113 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, 2.0 English, DTS-ES 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99

Release Date: April 29, 2008
Review Date: April 17, 2008


The Film

3.5/5

We’ve had Middle Earth and Hogwarts and Narnia, and now Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass presents us with a parallel world similar to ours but where humans’ souls accompany them through life as various animals they call “daemons,” witches abound, and a substance known as “dust” is something that seems to have mystical properties the reigning inquisition called the Magisterium wants to keep to themselves. The film version of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights is a reasonably entertaining and imaginative fantasy, but give me any of the Harry Potter adventures any day.

Feisty, uningratiating Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) finds herself on a voyage to the North accompanied by the imposing and mysterious Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman). Lyra has in her possession an Alethiometer, the golden compass which is a magical device which in the proper hands can be read as a kind of truth detector and pathway to the future. Her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) has already headed north in search of the golden dust which seems to somehow link parallel worlds, and Lyra wishes to join in the expedition. She also knows that a dear young friend has been kidnapped by forces in the North, and she’s promised his mother that she’ll find and rescue him. Along the way Lyra calls upon an assortment of unusual friends for help including a pseudo-cowboy aviator Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott) and Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellen), a majestic bear who once ruled as king of the ice bears.

Chris Weitz’s script doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator; he expects his viewers to pick up the mythology of this new kind of world as we go along though the film. He also has a protagonist who’s not the easiest personality to like despite her pluckiness and verve. Unusual and somewhat off-putting names of people, places, and objects abound in this world, and it takes effort to sort them all quickly as the tempo of the film presses onward. It also doesn’t work in the film’s favor that there are almost no kindly adults until Sam Elliott’s character turns up halfway through the adventure. It’s a fantasy epic all right, but it’s a rather cold and cruel world on display, and one has to work hard to like where and with whom we find ourselves from the get-go.

Weitz’s direction works in fits and starts, but the film as a whole doesn’t have the smooth transition from sequence to sequence that would have made it a more enjoyable entertainment. There’s not a great sense of danger, for example, when Lyra and Iorek Byrnison have to cross a thin ice bridge over a deep cavernous canyon. One wonders what someone like Steven Spielberg would have done with the sequence. Weitz handles it in rather rudimentary fashion. A battle between ice bears doesn’t hold as much excitement as it should either, obviously done digitally from start to finish. Better are some late film revelations that would make the next films in the series much more interesting with stakes for Lyra much higher. Given the disappointing reception the film found in America (though it was a smash internationally), it's unknown whether we'll see the other two stories in the trilogy.

Dakota Blue Richards is almost the whole show as Lyra. She’s in almost every scene, and she handles everything quite competently. Top billed Nicole Kidman and especially Daniel Craig have much less to do than one might think in their subsidiary parts. Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee make effectively grave leaders of the Magisterium while Sam Elliott is his usual welcome self as Lee Scoresby. Eva Green also adds some allure as a helpful witch. The voice work by Ian McKellen (Iorek Byrnison), Freddie Highmore as Lyra’s daemon Pan, and Ian McShane as Iorek’s competition for king of the bears is first rate.


Video Quality

4.5/5

The anamorphically encoded 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio makes for a beautiful transfer. Though there’s very slight smearing in some long shots, some occasional blooming whites, and a tiny bit of moiré in some ship rigging, most of the film is wonderfully sharp and excellently rendered. Flesh tones are notably true to life, and blacks are rich and deep. The film is divided into 20 chapters.

Audio Quality

5/5

Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track and the DTS-ES 5.1 track are superb. The Dolby Digital seemed to have a bit louder activity in the surrounds while the DTS track excelled in a richer LFE channel and a slightly more open soundstage. The Alexandre Desplat score gets full play in all the front and rear surround channels constantly, and the sound design overall is very impressive indeed.


Special Features

5/5

Disc one in this two disc set contains an audio commentary by director Chris Weitz. It’s a very scene specific analysis of the film and the work that went into each scene. Weitz is full of stories about the three years of effort he put into the project both as writer and director, and he is never silent in recounting the work during the film’s 113 minute running time.

Previews for the upcoming Journey to the Center of the Earth are also on the first disc in the set.

The rest of the extensive bonus features are contained on disc two. All of the documentaries listed below and all of the theatrical trailers are presented in anamorphic widescreen.

“The Novel” spends an extensive amount of time with novelist Philip Pullman as he discusses his early career in writing, where he got the idea for the His Dark Material trilogy, and how he feels about the finished film. The interview lasts 19 minutes.

“The Adaptation” is a 16-minute sit down with writer-director Chris Weitz on his three year participation on the project including the surprising information that at one point, he resigned as director and then took the job back a few weeks later.

“Finding Lyra Belacqua” is a 15-minute documentary on the search for the right actress to play Lyra. The casting efforts took four open calls where the casting agents saw some 10,000 children for the leading role. Dakota Blue Richards then recounts her audition experience which included four callbacks.

“Daemons” begins with author Philip Pullman’s last minute invention of the creatures and takes us through the creation of the various daemons for the major characters, sometimes being different in the film from their book incarnations. After the 20-minute documentary is over, the viewer may partake of a step-through gallery of various daemons from the film in concept art and actual execution.

“The Alethiometer” is an interesting story of the film’s title prop: its creation and manufacture from the initial concept stages through the casting of the six bronze replicas used in the film. One of my favorite featurettes on the disc, it runs 15 minutes. There is another step-through gallery available to see various aspects of the prop.

“Production Design” includes Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner discussing his work on the movie and his coordination with all of the other departments to make the movie’s look be a seamless one. This featurette runs 26 minutes and also includes a step-through gallery of the artist’s designs and their actual implementation.

“Costumes” spends 11 ¾ minutes with costume designer Ruth Myers as she shows wardrobe sketches and the finished products for all of the major characters.

“Oxford (Lyra’s Jordan)” is a 7½ minute look at how various real-life locations at Oxford University were combined to form the fictional Jordan College at Oxford for the film.

“Armoured Bears” is an extensive look into the six months of the designing, model prototyping, and CGI work that went into making the ice bears used in the movie. We get to see both Ian McShane and Ian McKellen recording their lines for their characters, and there is also a step-through gallery of illustrations and film frames on the bears. The documentary runs 17½ minutes.

“Music” finds composer Alexandre Desplat discussing his work on the project. We also see him conducting the 119 piece symphony orchestra recording the soundtrack for the film. The featurette runs 11 ¾ minutes.

“Launching the Film” shows us the almost unending publicity machine in full swing beginning at the Cannes Film Festival and right up to the film’s London premiere in December 2007. This featurette lasts 8 minutes.

There is a step-through poster gallery of various artwork for advertising the movie.

The disc offers three theatrical trailers, all in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound that last 2½, 1, and 3 minutes respectively.


In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

New Line has gone all out for this 2-disc DVD set for The Golden Compass. The film is entertaining without quite the quota of magic it needed to turn a good film into a great one. Still, it’s well worth seeing, and fans of the movie will welcome this very generous set of bonus material.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

[PG]117420206[/PG]
 

Sam Posten

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Great review! I just got the BluRay for review and watched it tonight. I will be finishing up that review later this weekend. Agree with you on the movie itself, it seems to be somewhere inbetween Narnia and LOTR for me, gonna have to let it sink in a day or two. It definitely has a hint of subversiveness to it, tho I'm unsure if it was worthy of the controversy I remember it stirring on release.
 

Matt Hough

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Thanks, Sam. I'm looking forward to reading your review.

The controversy, as so many of these kinds of disputes over religious content are, was unwarranted. I think possibly folks were likely protesting the author's atheism rather than the actual content of the film.

In any event, I'm anxious to see what Warners Bros. (now that New Line has been folded into Warners) decides to do about filming the other two books.
 

Ray H

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Weitz's original version of the movie was heavily recut by New Line. Essentially, NL found the original ending to be too dark so they cut it to appeal to broader audiences. But they couldn't leave it at that. They liked some of the more action packed sequences that would've led to the film's finale, but having cut the finale proper, they just sprinkled these odd pieces throughout the film. So it's no surprise the film lacks flow. Certain scenes that were supposed to lead to others are randomly plopped in. For example, the ice bridge scene was supposed to come towards the end and was supposed to be a pretty big character moment. With no reference to what she was really crossing over to, it loses its purpose.

It would appear that other countires will be getting an "extended edition" of the film on DVD. With the possibility of sequels in doubt, hopefully this extended version finds its way to American shores.
 

Jon Martin

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Thanks for the review. I think I may have to pick this up now.

I saw the film theatrically and thought it was hugely underrated. I had never read the books but, honestly, enjoyed it more than the film of NARNIA or even LORD OF THE RINGS (but I am that one person who didn't love the LOTR films).

Since the film did so well internationally (but not here), I'm still hoping for the sequels.
 

Lord Dalek

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I do hope the extended international version does make its way to these shores. From what I undersand that version is at least somewhat coherent.
 

Travis Brashear

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Not only was it, but it made the vast majority of its money from the overseas market. Only in the U.S. would it be considered a box office failure.
 

David_Blackwell

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RayH, I miss the original ending and feel the film did miss some moments. the book is much better than the current theatrical cut. The director did mention he wanted the original ending to open up the second film since it was cut.
 

Ronald Epstein

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Just watched this on Blu-ray.

I know my opinion won't be popular, but this was the most
bland fantasy film I have ever had the displeasure of watching.

I really am surprised I made it to the end as I wanted to turn
it off several times. I'm a fan of Narnia, but this film
just doesn't come close.
 

TonyD

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do you think the review will be different?

the film will be the same just less extra features.
 

Matthew Clayton

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I just want to know if the audio commentary will be ported over or whether New Line deliberately omitted it from the single-disc pressings.

I think it's the latter, so could anyone prove/disprove that?
 

Sam Posten

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Ron I dont think you will find too much disagreement with your overall verdict. I didnt use the word bland in my review but that is a good summation. Contrived and confused as well, but ALSO beautiful.

BD review is up here:
http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htf/...ml#post3364327

Will put a link to this review in that thread as well.

Sam
 

Bryan Tuck

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Has anyone found out for sure if the Best Buy bonus disc for this contains deleted scenes? It was advertised as "Bonus Footage," but that could just be more behind-the-scenes footage.
 

Jon Martin

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I got the two disc today from Best Buy, and mine didn't even come with a bonus disc. I thought it was going to be inside the case, but there wasn't anything.

No big loss, as it probably is just behind the scenes footage. I've yet to see a Bonus disc that is actually a bonus.
 

Shawn DuHast

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English 2 disc SDVD Version says "2 Disc Extended Edition"

DVD Times - The Golden Compass (R2) in April

I think it means extended dvd package NOT film ie 2 discs rather than 1.
Both the 1 disc and 2 disc DVD's have the same running times (109 minutes = 4% PAL speedup) and the BBFC (English version of MPAA but covers home releases as well as Cinema) has NOT passed any other version.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS rated PG by the BBFC

Unlike you lucky lucky lucky people in the good old US of A, here in England it is illegal to release uncertified/unrated material.
 

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