My wife and I went to see "The Golden Compass" over the weekend. I'm a huge fan of Pullman's novels, so I was eager to see this one translated to film despite the middling reviews that I've seen. It seems to have divided the critics. Some love it, others hate it, and the majority sit somewhere in between. After having the whole weekend to dwell on the movie adaptation, I have to say that there's truth to all the bad reviews that I've read, but also I have to say that the film's well worth a viewing by fans of the books and by lovers of fantasy alike. I'll try to explain without spoiling anything about the movie should you lot decide to go and see it.
One of the chief concerns among the mediocre reviews is that the film feels rushed and that there's not enough explanation of Lyra's (the main protagonist) world. Big hearty agreement here. Had I not read the novels, I can imagine I would feel lost while watching the pic. My wife knew enough of the novels through my own clamoring about them to get by, but someone with no prior knowledge of Jordan College, the Magisterium and Daemons is going to feel lost, and the film never really tries to put enough information to the viewers to get across all the intricacies that are found in the book. This would be fine if you were translating a plain as vanilla setting, but since we're talking a fantasy world in Golden Compass, there deserved to be enough info to explain all the little peculiarities. Instead, a unknowing viewer is going to feel more lost than exciting by the Ice Bears, Witches and Gobblers.
And another issue I had with the film is that the ending of the 1st book is not in the film. For those familiar with the trilogy, the ending of the 1st book was a total shocking cliff-hanger than had you dying to see what happened to poor Lyra next. Yet in the pic, akin to Jackson's ending of The Two Towers, we're left with a more optimistic view of the book's ending with only a little foreshadowing of what's to come. Sure, it gives the film a happy ending that's likely been decided necessary by the studio executives, but in cutting out the last two chapters of the 1st book, the film loses it's main edge: that being a children's novel/film that deals with heavy subject matter in a way that doesn't placate.
I think the reasoning behind this is that the movie doesn't have an automatic sequel coming, like Jackson's films did or the Narnia pictures. TGC needs to do well enough to recoup expenses, or we'll likely never see the 2nd and 3rd book, and I think it would be a horrible shame if that happened really, since the last two books are where Pullman goes very heavily into his anti-Magisterium work, and where his message of free will really takes shape. It's a beautifully crafted philosophical piece of fiction, much more for adults than children, and I'd hate to see less than stellar reviews lead to less than stellar ticket sales... and ultimately no sequels.
My only hope is that the 2nd film is made and begins with the last two chapters of the 1st book, and also lets itself explain more of Lyra's world. For the 1st time in a while, I feel that 2 hours simply wasn't enough time to cram what was needed to be crammed into the film adaptation. Another half hour of exploration and explanation I think would have gone a long way towards making the film less rushed feeling.
Anyway, here's where I'm going with this. The Golden Compass is a good, but hurried adaptation of its source material. Fans of the books will like it, fans of fantasy will like it, but others taking their children to see it might feel lost, and left wondering what the thing was all about. If I can offer any advice, it's to immediately read the last two chapters of the book once the movie's over. It'll make everything a bit more clear. There are other things that are changed and omitted for brevity's sake, but by far the most negligent omission is that of the ending.
Here's hoping it doesn't utterly fail and we see the next two books on screen. It deserves to be completed.