The movie version of “The Golden Compass” blows chunks (IMO)

We went and saw The Golden Compass this afternoon, and, as my subject line here suggests, I was disappointed. Warning to folks who don’t want either the movie or the book spoiled for them: spoilers after the jump.

Now, you might think a geeky guy like me might be the big Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan in the Krause-Wannamaker household. In reality, that’s Annette, and she’s the one that said I should read Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. I highly recommend the book and I’ll probably start on the second book in the series (The Subtle Knife) soon. So I was both looking forward to and worried about the movie.

On the plus-side, the movie looks great, I thought the acting was good, and it did generally have “the right vibe” for me. Things looked to me like the way it looked in my head as I read. Early on, the movie wasn’t following the book as literally as some of the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books (for example) have, but that was okay with me. It’s a complicated story and I understand that there are reasons to rearrange some things and cut other things from the novel for the film. So, for example, there was a lot more of Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) in the middle of the movie than there is in the middle of the book, and there’s a lot more explanation early on of things like dust and the alethiometer. But okay, that’s the way movies work.

They made some bad decisions about story-telling toward the end, things like the Tartans deliver the kidnapped Lyra to the bears instead of to the General Oblation Board/Gobblers prison thing where they are severing the kids’ daemons, and they totally skip the fact that Lyra, Iorek the bear, and Roger fall out of the balloon, etc. Not good, but I can still deal with this.

It’s the ending of the movie though that was a complete deal-breaker for me. Here’s how the Wikipedia entry on the film summarizes the ending thusly:

In the end the Gyptians leave with their children. Lyra doesn’t go with them and says she is going to find Lord Asriel. Roger and his dæmon come with Lyra and Pan to find him. Scoresby takes them on his ship along with Iorek Byrnison and the witch that came to Lyra on the ship coming to Norway.

Literally, Lyra, Roger, and Iorek go sailing off into the sunset aboard Lee Scorseby’s (Sp??) airship, seemingly happily ever after.

Folks who have read the book will immediately recognize the problem. In the book, what happens is that Lyra, Roger, and Iorek end up at Lord Asriel’s cabin, where he’s been imprisoned and working on the whole dust thing. (Oh, and another BTW: Lyra knows for a long time that she is the child of Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel, but this info is delayed until the end of the movie for some reason). This is where Asriel explains the whole deal with Dust (and yet another BTW: one of the pleasures of the book is the on-going mystery of Dust, which, in the movie, is pretty much explained in the first 15 minutes), and then he ends up taking off with Roger. Lyra and Iorek go chasing after him, though Iorek ends up being left behind, and Lyra witnesses Asriel killing Roger to get access to the next world, which is the beginning of the second book. In other words, a decidedly not sailing into the sunset ending.

So, here’s the thing: in changing the ending this way, they not only changed the movie into a ridiculous “happy ending;” they changed THE WHOLE FREAKIN’ POINT OF THE BOOK! When I saw this come up in the theater, I quite audibly said “What?! What IS this?!” over and over again.

Gar-bage, as the French might say. Rush out and read the book. Avoid the movie.

2 thoughts on “The movie version of “The Golden Compass” blows chunks (IMO)”

  1. Well, I’m bummed. Like your wife, I’m a fan of the books. I’ve read all three, look forward to the one that’s supposed to be next, and had high hopes for the adaptation. Our 13 year old, too, has read them all. It’s great and intelligent storytelling for kids (and certainly absorbing for adults, too–far more so than, for instance, HP, though I like those fine, as well). Dumbing down is always a huge let down.


  2. Ugh, thanks for the review. I’m re-reading the books to gear up for the movie, since I haven’t read them in about seven years (middle school, yay!).
    At least I know what to expect!

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