Golden Compass (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Entertainment In Video
Review written by and copyright: Pat Pilon & Samuel Scott (1st May 2013).
The Film

With movies like "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy (2001-2003) and the "Harry Potter" series (2001-2007), more and more studios are willing to spend mucho money to have their own fantasy series under their belt. Disney had their go with "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005) and its sequel "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (2008), and so New Line tried their hand again with the first part of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, "The Golden Compass".

In this world – one of many universes – everybody lives with their own daemon, an animal spirit that represents the person's personality. Lord Asriel () has a leopard, Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) has a golden monkey, and so on. The main character, Lyra Belacqua (first-timer Dakota Blue Richards) is young, and so her daemon hasn't chosen a particular animal, though often wavers between a ferret, a cat and a bird. The humans and their daemons are connected in a very special way that isn't quite explained fully in the movie. One only knows that whatever happens to one, the other feels.

The political situation is a bit complex to explain now, but something called 'Dust' is apparently dangerous - and absolutely not for kids – and is being researched by the Magisterium, the governing body of the nation. Through various devices, Lyra gets the chance to go North on a journey. She takes the chance to go North so she can learn more about Dust, which is intriguing to her. The movie then follows her journey North, and the various events that happen when other people try to stop her from going North (again, not really important for this review).

The movie moves very well and features spectacular vistas and landscapes. The grand city and the bright, snowy North, in addition to the smaller locations of banquet rooms and alleyways, are visually stunning. The fantasy aspect doesn't really take over the movie, as much as meld into it. The plot is nothing special, but does have interesting aspects about it – the whole subplot of Dust, for example – and the movie holds off on explaining everything. Some of the plot points will be explained in the follow-up movies later on. The symbolism is pretty interesting, if a bit simplistic. Circles and ovals play an important part of this.

The movie received the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, beating out impressive rivals, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (2007) and the Michael Bay opus, "Transformers" (2007). It deserved it, as the daemons are all CG, as are some of the characters. The vistas and transportation are rendered incredibly well. There's a very nice amount of detail and naturalness to everything. The alethiometer (the title object) melds practical and visual effects very impressively, as well.

The books were originally marketed for kids, and the movie is definitely geared more towards the younger set than, say, "The Lord of the Rings" movies. The movie is enjoyable and I'm happy to have it on my shelf. It doesn't have the importance and depth of Tolkien’s work, or the sense of wonder of the "Harry Potter" movies, but it's a good way to pass a couple of hours. The movie is enjoyable, imaginative and I’ll be looking for the next part with anticipation.

Video

Entertainment in Video are not exactly renowned for consistency when it comes to their blu-ray releases, but rest assured, they've done a pretty good job here. Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and using a VC-1 encode, "The Golden Compass" looks great with only a couple of minor problems. There is a noticeable difference in the quality of detail between the CGI elements and non-CGI elements. For example, Lorek, the giant CGI polar bear, looks fantastic. His fur is incredibly detailed, the white strands defined. Real actors on the other hand, sometimes lack that extra bit of detail in their faces, perhaps the result of some digital noise reduction. The only other problem worth mentioning is the very occasional crushing of blacks. I noticed no edge enhancement or judder, and with the film being relatively new, it comes as no surprise there were no scratches or print damage.

Audio

Just one audio option here, English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. With a film that is heavy on special effects and has plenty of action, there is some great use of the surrounds on offer. The score by Alexandre Desplat is well distributed, increasing and decreasing in volume as the story requires. The end battle scene sounds the best with full use of the surrounds and LFE, giving you the feeling of being on the battlefield. Some of the quieter scenes with more enclosed settings sometimes lack immersion, but overall, the audio is of high quality.

Extras

The extra features start with an audio commentary with writer/director Chris Weitz, which is also available in an enhanced picture in picture mode where you can view behind the scenes footage and alternate angles in a smaller picture found on the bottom left of your screen. For a solo commentary, Weitz does well to keep things moving, finding a good balance of technical information, the importance of certain scenes and other minor tidbits. If you enjoyed the film, this commentary is worth listening to.

"The Novel: Author Philip Pullman and the Consequences of Curiosity" featurette (19:07) is an interesting look at several aspects of Pullman's career. Originally titled in the UK as Northern Lights, it became known as The Golden Compass after a mistake by a US publisher. Pullman and other interviewees talk about how he learnt to tell stories, and his career in general.

"The Adaptation of Writer/Director Chris Weitz" featurette (16:11) shows some of the effort that went into pre-production, and Weitz's love for the books. Bob Shaye of New Line secured the rights to the books and talked to big names such as Ridley Scott about directing the project, until they "scraped the bottom of the barrel" (Weitz's words) and went with Weitz who really sold his ideas and vision for the feature. At one point during filming, Weitz resigned as he didn't think he felt he was out of his depth. Anand Tucker was then hired but there were creative differences and he never even made it the set, and in the meantime, Weitz decided he could do it.

"Finding Lyra Belacqua: Introducing Dakota Blue Richards" featurette (15:08) is a closer look at the casting of Lyra Belcqua. Open auditions were held at four different venues across the United Kingdom, with over 10,000 young girls showing up for their chance at stardom. Dakota Blue Richards from Brighton was the lucky youngster eventually cast and we also hear about why she went to the auditions and see footage of her first day on set.

The "Daemons" featurette (19:56) has Pullman telling us how the Daemons were not characters in his initial draft of the book. As he went through it, he realised something was missing, and so the Daemons were introduced to the trilogy. Director Weitz also talks about some minor changes to this aspect to avoid overly confusing the audience and to keep the movie less complicated in general.

"The Alethiometer: Creating the Truth Measure" featurette (14:57) looks closer at the Alethiometer, its importance to the film, and how the prop department made it. Interviewees include Dakota Blue Richards, Chris Weitz, Dennis Gasner and Philip Pullman.

"Production Design: The Emotional Fabric of a Parallel World" featurette (26:03) looks closely at the design of the world in which The Golden Compass is set. They discuss the tone of the world and show how it was designed from the ground up.

"Costumes" featurette (11:49) looks at the work of Ruth Myers, the costume designer for the project. She started by reading the books, and then made a portfolio of what she thought the costumes would look like. Plenty of cast members discuss their feelings on the costume design including Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig. Over 700 costumes were made from scratch for the project and over twenty staff were working in the costume department during filming - more than usually required for your average movie according to Myers.

"Oxford: Lyra's Jordan" featurette (7:32) is a quick look at the architecture of Oxford and why Pullman used it as a central location for his story. Amusingly, he tells us another reason is that he lives very close to Oxford and so didn't have to travel far in order to do the adequate research.

"Armoured Bears: The Panserbjørne of Svalbard" featurette (17:43) is, surprisingly, the only featurette in this generous package where we get to hear from various members of the visual effects crew. They met with a specialist from the Royal Veterinary College to help work out the physical movements and structure of polar bears. It shows most stages of the process, and is interesting, but I do wish we had a long documentary to cover the visual effects.

"Music" featurette (11:50) is a closer look at the process of selecting and composing music for a movie. We get to see footage of the orchestra performing for the score and we hear a little about Alexandre Desplat's career and the score he did for another Nicole Kidman movie, Birth.

"The Launch: Releasing the Film" (7:58) brings us to the end of the featurettes. The publicity began for the movie at Cannes 2007 and we see a little footage of the photocall and the roundtables with media. It's interesting to see how Dakota Blue Richards handles herself as a youngster who is practically thrown to the media wolves. Colin Burrows, the junket producer tells us about all the other publicity she must attend, including one where she does 57 television interviews in one day with the world's press.

There are also a lot of galleries included with each featurette and the extras end with the self-explanatory:
Poster Gallery
Teaser Trailer (2:32)
Trailer No. 2 (1:03)
Final Trailer (3:11)

Overall

Film reviewed by Pat Pilon. A/V and extras reviewed by Samuel Scott.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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