The Golden Compass

Cover Art and Menus: 8/10
The slip cover for the Special Platinum 2 disc edition is pretty cool. I know, it’s odd hearing that from me. I’m notoriously unimpressed with DVD cover art. This time they got it right. The gold embossed design on the slip cover makes it look and feel like an event is just waiting to bust out of the box…oh how dynamic of me.

The menu is appropriate if not uneventful. It’s a Blu-Ray menu so it pops up over the movie when you choose to access it. It’s themed for the movie and matches the style of the covers. I would say overall they did a right good’ol job of packaging this DVD.

Features: 8/10

  • Visually Enhanced Commentary by Writer Director Chris Weitz – This is an excellent feature. You watch the movie while a box in the corner serves up either the director talking about what’s happening and how each scene was made, or behind the scenes footage of the movie being made while the director still comments. It’s better than a standard voiced over commentary.
  • Origins Featurettes – Interviews with the author of the books that inspired the movie along with the director talking about how the movie came to be made make this an interesting extra for me. I had no idea about the books, the original story, none of it. So, I learned a thing or two, which is always a good thing. I always enjoy knowing more about the history of such an epic project.
  • Behind The Scenes & Lyra’s World Featurettes – How the movie was made, from the special effects to modeling the animal characters. It’s all here. The director, Weitz is charming and a lot different from a lot of Hollywood directors. He seems more relaxed than I would imagine with so much happening behind the scenes to get a movie like this to all come together.
  • Theatrical & Teaser Trailers – We all know what trailers are.
  • Galleries – Some of these are actually fun to look through. I don’t normally enjoy photo galleries, but this movie has a lot of lovely things to look at, so it’s not a problem to skim through for a few still shots of it all.

Movie: 9/10
Life can be complicated and challenging. That’s what a grown up would say. I would say it too, on certain days. What can clear that moldy old thinking out of my aging mind? An adventure. I have forgotten the pure imagination that I used to have as a child. It kind of shriveled up somewhere under some boring clunky thoughts of bills, work, frustrations of everyday life. What would help me find it? An adventure I can believe in….and I found it.

The Golden Compass didn’t just shake out the cobwebs and find that little sliver of imagination I had hiding away, it knocked a few of the lumbering tired worries and monotony right on their keesters and made me feel like a kid again.
That’s a big statement. I know. I can’t help it, this movie made me smile, and wonder, and tingle just a little bit. The story combines myth, history, literary staples, and so much imagination that the fog of cynicism that I have let set in over the years didn’t stand a chance. It’s a story too big for me to detail here. I had no idea what it was about before seeing it, so my experience was that much better. I will run over the basics, but it’s best to watch it without any expectations.

Lyra, a young girl in a parallel world holds the key to unlocking the oppression of her entire planet. The Magistrate rules with no tolerance for individuality, or exploration. A few people know of the existence of a thing called dust. Dust can connect their world to others, opening them up to new ideas. No dictator wants that, so the people in power want to control everyone’s’ Daemons. Daemons are the animals that represent each person’s spirit. They walk side by side, not as their conscience or moral guide, but as part of them in thought and experiences.

It’s a way of looking at how life can often strip us of our individuality and even desire to find our own way this world. There are always systems in place to tame us, to control us, “for our own good”. I hate that.
So, you can imagine, any story where the leading characters are fighting against the threat of losing their freedom of choice, I’m going to be that much more captivated.

There are wonderful characters, amazing special effects, gorgeous sets and backdrops where all the action takes place. Those are all just bonuses for me. It’s the heart of the story that won my devotion from the start. It is about good vs evil, not original. Sometimes, though, a classic tale can be told in a way that is special, plain and simple. I like characters who defy authority, particularly children who resist the grown ups’ trying to take away their individuality. It’s not without its tried and true conflicts. Moments of triumph aren’t so bold that they feel like a tool to rile you up. Even the age old good guy vs. bad guy hand to hand battle could have gone the way of most with sappy drama, but there is just the right amount of tension and emotion to keep me on the edge of my seat, not make me roll my eyes and hope they end quickly. Quite the contrary, I wanted this movie to go on and on and on.

Some moments are more memorable than others. The introduction of Lyra’s Daemon, Pan is subtle but lovely. A child’s Daemon changes on a whim. They haven’t settled yet, so Pan changes from a ferret to a bird to a moth in the first few minutes. I was intrigued and that little bit of kid fascination started to find its way back into my mind. Another moment that resonates is when we first meet the ice bear Iorek Byrnison. He’s big, bold, loud, and looks flippin’ incredible. Many celebrity voices grace the animals in the movie, and Ian McKellen does his elegant best to give Iorek have a stern and imposing presence.

This movie left me wanting so much more. I’m not gonna get another installment of this saga for a while, but now I’m more open to other whimsical adventures and hopefully, HOPEFULLY I’ll get even more of this tingly sensation and that imagination of mine will come out of retirement just in time to save my dusty old view of life.

Value: 6/10
If I had children who would watch this movie over and over and over (thereby giving me an excuse to watch it over and over and over) I would buy it without hesitation. It’s $30, which is fair for long term enjoyment. I will say I’m taking my standard position on DVD prices. $30 is too much for a one time viewing of any movie on any format with any amount of extras. There, I said it. The extras are excellent, just not worth the extra cash. The movie looks amazing and the sound is tremendous, but not worth the Blu-Ray price. Bottom line, watch it whether you rent it or buy it. I say rent or wait for it to come down in price for some holiday season.

Overall Score 8/10