Today I saw a movie. A movie that was really bad. You know how there are movies that are bad, and movies that are so bad, they become laughably pathetic, and thus good again. Well this movie is neither of those. It's a movie with a lot of potential. It has a good cast, a good setting, good visual effects, and a few decent fights to boot. But the story of this movie such a pathetic mess of ideas that when you try to tell someone what happens in it, they think you're on some form of drugs. The story of this movie is so convoluted, stupid, pointless, and just downright dumb that it overshadows every other good thing in the movie, and brings the movie down to not just being bad, but becoming something I've never seen before, a movie you feel bad for
, because it could have been good.
The Golden Compass is based on a book ironically, not by the same name. The original is called Northern Lights. Now, I have never read the original book, and this review isn't about it. However, the fact that this movie is based on a book, is partially why I feel bad for it, because the producers of the movie have clearly brutalized the source material. They tied it up, whipped it a few times, cut off a few limbs, then left it to bleed to death out in the cold. First of all, and most importantly, the movie does not contain the last scene of the book. It was filmed, it is included in the video game version of The Golden Compass, but for some reason the movie producers felt it was a better move to include it as the first scene in the inevitable sequel. A lot of scenes are also apparently out of order compared to the book, and as with a lot of book to movie conversions the pace is a bit rushed, but with Golden Compass being under two hours, the pacing is even worse in this.
The rest of this review will contain spoilers, so if you're thinking oh I'll go watch it then read this review, don't. I don't recommend anyone to see this movie. It's bad, really really bad. It might be fun if you're with friends, or stoned, or whatever, but I wouldn't know. The movie takes itself seriously so it's not a campy bad, it's just bad bad. Anyways, on with the spoilers!
The movie takes place in an alternate version of earth where the church controls everything, technology isn't as advanced and mostly steampunk (don't think this makes the movie any good though, 90% of the movie takes place away from civilization) and every single person has a talking animal who follows them around called a daemon. Well, it's pronounced demon so you'd never know how it was spelled without reading about the movie anyways. For the hell of it, I'm going to call them fuzzy buddies, because that's basically what they are. Did I mention every single human has a fuzzy buddy? Well they do, and the movie just gets more retarded from there.
Anyways, the movie starts with a bunch of kids (and their fuzzy buddies) running around trying to beat up some poor sap for no reason. The main character, a girl named Lyra, stops them, then with her friend returns to what I guess is their home, an orphanage. I'm getting a bunch of vibes at this point, it feels like Harry Potter with the British school kids, Zero no Tsukaima where everyone has a fuzzy buddy, and Lyrical Nanoha because ironically, Lyra's fuzzy buddy happens to be a ferret for most of the opening scenes. However none of these things I tried to typecast the story as are even close to accurate, because they all have one thing in common: the main character knows magic. Lyra on the other hand, is just a normal girl, with no powers whatsoever. I suppose it needs to be formally written as a rule that if you have a walking, talking, shapeshifting animal companion, there better be magic involved, because it looks stupid otherwise.
Anyways, she decides to steal something from one of the ministers as a game, then gets locked inside a dresser when some adults show up. She witnesses some evil conspiracy unfold, and one of them poisons a drink, and they leave. The next person to enter happens to be her uncle, and as he is is about to drink the poison, she jumps out of the dresser, and smacks the glass out of his hand and it shatters onto the floor. He thanks her by telling her to get back in the dresser. A minute later the same guys that poisoned the drink return, and seem unphased to the fact that uncle is still alive, or that there is broken glass on the floor.
And here folks, is where things start to get really dumb. The uncle is there to give a presentation to the other scholars. Despite that there is no advanced technology in the movie, he has a video of his findings. And what he has found, is dust. He shows a movie of some guy, that guy's fuzzy buddy, and dust. Yes, dust. I'm going to say it again. Dust. The big discovery, is fucking dust. Now in a movie where you have tons of made up terms, the fact that they didnt call this mystic energy anything else is quite puzzling. They call it dust. The viewer is forever confused the rest of the movie, wondering what the fuck dust is. This question is never answered in the movie. All they really say is that dust is related to alternate universes, and could be used to travel between worlds.
Anyways, Lyra's uncle leaves to travel north, to find this legendary dust. But before he goes, he gives Lyra a magical device, a golden compass, that can tell the truth about any subject. And of course
it is the last device of its kind as all the others were destroyed. He gives it to her because "the witches" said she was the chosen one. Throughout the movie the villians will doubt Lyra as "she couldn't possibly know how to use the compass". Well she does, about twenty minutes later even. Though she never really uses it for anything important at all.
At some point in the movie around this time its also mentioned that there is a group called the Gobblers kidnapping the other orphan kids, and sure enough, two of Lyra's friends get kidnapped.
So almost imediately after Lyra's uncle leaves, an evil woman played by Nicole Kidman shows up, asks Lyra if she also wants to travel north, and gets permission to take her away from the orphanage. But instead of actually going north, they travel to the big city. We learn that Nicole Kidman is part of the church, whos motives can be summed up in one line. They tell people what to do, because people need to be told what to do. At one point Lyra mentions dust to Nicole Kidman, who starts freaking out, demanding where she learned about dust, and never to speak of it again. So Lyra is trapped by this woman, who apparently only wants to groom her and show her off to her socialite buddies than actually travel north like she promised. This leads to awesome scenes like this
Nicole Kidman: Please take off your shoulder bag when indoors
Nicole Kidman: YOU FUCKING BITCH I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU
At that point their fuzzy buddies start beating the shit out of each other. Eventually it's even revealed that Nicole Kidman is a Gobbler. Lyra escapes from her new home, and gets chased through the streets by other gobblers, who are basically faceless nameless thugs in dark outfits. They corner her in an abandoned factory.
When suddenly, vikings, hundreds of them! A bunch of guys show up out of fucking nowhere, with guns, and shoot all the gobblers. Apparently when people die, they don't like, die, instead they explode into orange CG dust. I'm not sure if this dust people explode into is supposed to be the same dust that is located in the north, as its never explained. So these vikings (I have no idea what they really are, I'm just calling them that) take Lyra on their boat, as they happen to be traveling to the north. During this boat ride, Lyra happens to be visted by a witch, who reminds her that she's the chosen one, then flies away.
So they arrive at a town. Or I assume they did. They dont do a shot of the boat arriving at this town, they don't do an arial shot of the area to indicate they're in a new location, they don't even seem to mention at all they've arrived anywhere. Just all of a sudden, Lyra is sitting on a pier, looking at her compass out in open, which is pretty retarded since all the villians are after the damn thing. So while she's looking at it, this creepy guy in a cowboy hat starts complimenting it, introducing himself and saying stupid crap like "well if yer headin north, you'll need a good airship pilot" basically inviting himself. So my "don't trust him you idiot" instict starts going off, as well as my pedophile instinct, but apparently both are wrong. Shows what I know. Nicole Kidman = she'll kill you. Cowboy who talks to little girls who are alone = This guy looks legit, you should trust him.
So for some reason, airship guy decides they'll need a polar bear for their journey to the north. And there happens to be one in this town! So in this world, while humans all have talking fuzzy buddies, apparently polar bears can talk too, and have their own society up north. But this polar bear, is one who has been tricked by the humans of the town, and works as a slave, for payment in alchohol. He starts crying to Lyra about how the humans tricked him, and stole his armor. And this is where, I fucking lost it, and started busted out laughing in the theatre. A talking, drunk polar bear, crying about how he lost his armor. It was just too much, they made such a big deal over how special his armor was supposed to be, since it was forged from stars that fell from the sky. So in order to help the bear out, Lyra uses her compass to determine where his armor is being hidden. It was two buildings away. So the bear charges out, runs headfirst into this building, and twenty damn seconds later he's got his armor back. This doesnt please the village guards, but the vikings charge in, point guns at everyone, and escape the town.
So now they're heading north, to "the north", through endless snowfields. During the night they set up camp, but Lyra and the polar bear have a bad feeling about something, and head out to look around. What they find, is one of the children from the opening scene, who was kidnapped by gobblers. However, he is in shellshock, as he has lost his fuzzy buddy, which is like losing a part of your body in this world. So they bring the boy back to the camp, and not 30 seconds later, mongolians who work for the church attack and kidnap Lyra.
Lyra is then delivered inexplicably to the bear king, who is an old rival of the good bear she helped earlier. The bear king is very angry, as there is one thing he desires but can never have. A fuzzy buddy. Lyra hides her own fuzzy buddy in her shirt, and tells the bear king that SHE is the fuzzy buddy of the good bear, and if the king beats the good bear in a fight, she'll be come the kings fuzzy buddy. This allows the good bear to waltz right into the bear capital without anyone attacking him. He does, murders the king, is declared the new bear king, then promptly leaves with Lyra. Despite being really really far off from the main plot at this point, this is probably the best part of the movie
So Lyra and the bear continue to head north, they reach a chasm with only a thin ice bridge to cross it. As Lyra walks across it, it crumbles and the two are seperated. Lyra continues on and reaches a labratory out in the literal middle of nowhere. She gets captured, and reunites with all the other children kidnapped by gobblers. Her captors decide to perform some experiment on Lyra, which involves putting her and her fuzzy buddy in a machine, and an electric field between them to seperate them. But before the procedure completes, Nicole Kidman runs in and shuts the machine down.
Lyra wakes up in a nice bed, with her fuzzy buddy. Nicole Kidman then explains that she is actually Lyra's long lost mother. Lyra repays the favor of saving her, by throwing a robotic bug into her mothers face, setting fire to the fuzzy buddy seperator machine, and escaping the labratory with all the children. Waiting outside for them however, are the mongolians, and just when things look really bad, up in the mother fuckin sky, an army of witches show up, shoot the mongolians with bows, who blow up on impact. During this, the vikings show up, and start kicking ass as well. Along with the bear. And the airship guy. Its just a total clusterfuck of not very epic proportions.
So the battle ends, and the vikings say they are heading home now that they've gotten the lost children back. Lyra, one of the kidnapped kids who was her best friend, and the bear head off with the airship guy, as they continue to head north to find the source of the dust. AND THATS THE FUCKING ENDING. Nothing is resolved, nothing is explained, and the story, quite literally, isn't even finished. As I mentioned at the start of this, the final scene was omitted at the last minute from the movie. It apparently, will become the first scene in the sequel. There is one huge problem with this though. The second book in the series, does not take place in the same alternate world that this one does, and does not have the same cast at all. So uhh, what the fuck? They're going to have ONE scene with Lyra and crew, then an entire movie about who knows what, never going back to the initial story? Knowledge of this tremendous fuckup should be enough to bring my score down to a zero, but since I'm judging this movie alone on its own merits, I'll just stick with my initial impression of "It's over? So what the fuck is the dust?"
Overall its a decent execution of an absolutely terrible storyline. The actors are good and take their roles a bit too seriously. The characters that get more than three minutes of development are good, there just aren't any. The CG is very good, the fuzzy buddies manage to look like real animals, even when talking or morphing from bird to mouse to ferret to cat. The fights leave a bit to be desired, most of them are ruined by people exploding into orange dust when they die. The bear vs bear fight is very good, but a bit short. The ending was terrible, and knowledge of how it fucks up the sequel makes it even worse
One last thing, on the way home, my dad said to me something I'll never forget
"The dust represents free will"