Reading Time: 3 minutes

Okay, I’m feeling properly chastened. As some of you pointed out, both in comments and in email, my review of The Golden Compass was a tad harsh. You’re right!

Let me explain. There are two things in particular that really make a movie for me: originality and music. Golden Compass (the film) is brimming with brilliance, but it let me down on those two points by including intrusive, overwrought music and by dropping the ball on the most original aspect of the book: the intensity of the human/daemon relationship. As a result, I sulked out of the opening day showing, went straight home and wrote my unbalanced review, leaving out much that was awesome in the flick. And there’s a lot.

So mea culpa.

Nearly four months later, when we finally got around to posting our father-son review, I slapped mine up there without reconsidering it in the light of passed time. So here it is again, this time with commentary in italics:

10. It’s bloody difficult to make a 2-hour reduction of a book of the scope, depth, and texture of The Golden Compass. That said, they blew it.

“Blew it” is way too harsh. They did many things incredibly well, though I don’t know how anyone who hasn’t read the book could follow it. It’s gaspingly beautiful and imaginatively textured, and the acting is great. Then there’s the daemon thing. I’ll get there.

9. Despite predictions to the contrary, it is made entirely clear that “the Magisterium” is the church and the Authority is God. The officers look like catholic cardinals, the Magisterium buildings are decorated with saints and icons, Asriel is accused of “heresy,” its opponents are called freethinkers, and Mrs. Coulter refers to the “error of our ancestors” that brought “dust” (sin) into the world. Plenty clear.

They did this reeeeeally well. Many freethought types were worried the war-on-the-church core of the book would be compromised, a la Da Vinci Code. It isn’t compromised. Support the troops!

8. The human/daemon relationship was made so intensely real in the book that both Connor and I longed for daemons of our own. This was the most remarkable, most brilliant, most emotionally captivating element of the book, yet the movie fails to make daemons anything more than beloved pets.

Considering how disappointed I was in this aspect, this part of the review is too mild. When Connor and I reached the intercision scene while reading, we were both nearly in tears. And Roger holding the dried fish in the shack… jeez, I’m tearing up now. In the movie, I didn’t feel either moment much at all. Only by showing Mrs. Coulter in slo-mo and (somehow) ratcheting the music up even more was the intensity of the moment made noticeable.

7. In the book, the witches are thousand-year-old beings, transcendent and wise, with an entirely different perspective on existence, amazing and original seers and sages. In the movie, they fly. That’s about it.

Again, a movingly original aspect of the book is left fallow.

6. I spent the six months prior to the film’s release depressed because I thought chirpy, doe-eyed Dakota Fanning had been cast as Lyra. Turns out it’s Dakota Blue Richards, and she’s PERFECT. Strong, petulant, independent, but also vulnerable and good.

This was an enormous relief. After watching Dakota Fanning transform strong, gutsy Fern into a cutie pie in Charlotte’s Web, I couldn’t believe they had cast her as Lyra Belacqua. You can’t imagine my relief when Dakota Blue Richards came on screen instead. Heh.

5. The music is absolutely terrible — a combination of overwrought wallpaper (never shuts up) and Mickey Mousing (imitates small visual actions with musical gestures).

Way too harsh. The music itself is not at all terrible. I’ve since heard it separated from the film, and it’s a lovely, brooding, harmonic clockwork kind of a thing. Very nice. The problem is the scoring— that is, the use of the music. Among other things, it is way, way too present, which is a mortal sin for film scoring after about 1975.

I’ll blog about film music at some point. Having studied it and considered entering the field myself for several years, I’m full of opinions and preferences. What does poor scoring do to me? Picture Tom Hanks in The Green Mile when, with John Coffey in the chair, he says “Roll on two.” Now picture Richard Simmons doing “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” behind him. Distracting, eh? Tell me about it.

4. The bear fight, despite some fine CGI, somehow manages to be a yawner.

3. Sam Elliott is spot-on as Lee Scoresby.

2. Coulter’s monkey is exquisitely creepy and hateworthy.

1. The ending is indescribably, epically, abysmally lame.

That’s not true. The ending is describably lame. I’m talking about the whole ending, all the way back to the escape from Bolvangar, when the fleeing kids confront the random hoard of Tartars — whose identities and loyalties have not been sufficiently established in the film for the confrontation to mean much more than Cute Kidlets vs. Bearded Baddies. The disappearing wolves are cool, though.

You should definitely see the film. It’s a visual feast, the acting is superb, and Pullman’s worlds are so incredible it would be a Dust to miss a chance at seeing into it. Even with an insistent, moaning orchestra in each ear.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.