On Wednesday evening I took my daughter Zoe to see the Golden Compass. I read her the Dark Materials trilogy a few years ago and last month she read all three again by herself, just to be ready for the film. Beforehand I thought it was inevitable that the film would simplify and tone-down the books. Film-makers have to be cautious with the first part of a trilogy because, if it doesn't make enough money, they don't get to make the second and third parts.
Before we even got in to the film, in the foyer an middle-aged woman approached us and furtively asked if we would be interested in coming to see a free film on Saturday morning. I said "No" without even thinking, and only later realised that it was probably some form of religious protest. Very sad.
The film starts with a Lord of the Rings style voice-over which explains the major themes of the story. In the book Pullman unfolds the plot gradually and the significance of Lyra only slowly becomes apparent to the reader. In the film this is all put right up at the front. I was disappointed and leant over to Zoe and said something like "Well, that's given away all the plot. We might as well go home now!". I can only think that the makers did this because the first showings indicated that audiences found the plot to be too confusing.
Throughout the film I found myself spotting other Lord of the Rings moments:
- Iorek Byrnisson was voiced by Gandalf (Ian McKellen).
- Among the leaders of the Magisterium, Saruman (Christopher Lee) makes a brief appearance.
- The Magisterium headquarters seem very similar to Denethor's palace in Minas Tirith.
- The charge of the 'gyptians at the battle of Bolvangar reminded me of the charge of Rohirrim at the battle of the Pelennor Fields.
- Towards the end, Lyra and Roger wander off together, rather like Frodo and Sam do at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring.
I also noticed that Daniel Craig got to do some James Bond stuff in the snow at Svalbard.
My first reaction on coming out of the cinema was of slight disappointment. I felt that film was too rushed: it could have done with another 30 minutes. But on further reflection I see this disappointment as a good sign: it means that I was still wanting more. I will certainly be taking Zoe to see part 2.