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

Matt Hough

Senior HTF Member
Apr 24, 2006
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough

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
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
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
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
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]

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