I went to the cinema again on monday. I wanted to see The Golden Compass. I had been looking forward to seeing this ever since I heard they made the movie. The book is great, and the cast was really good… what could possibly go wrong?
Well, obviously, Chris Weitz found a way. To quote Jamie Sutherland (from his comment on the imdb): “But the soul of the story is all but gone. Gone is the mystery; the slow, developing understanding of a person’s bond with their daemon; and the gentle, calm introduction to each character and their entwining relationships. Granted, such a complex story was always going to be difficult to adapt, but surely restricting it to such a short-time span (114 minutes) to tell the story just increases that difficulty. By ripping out the very things that made the novel so spell-binding and original, we’re left with an ultimately quite hollow, shallow and self-conscious movie, which is more interested in showing off it’s (admittedly breathtaking special effects) than telling an interesting story.”
(Warning: Spoilers for book and movie following!)
Weitz decided that in his script there would be no need for the subtleties, grey areas and religious references that make the book so complex and intelligent. Also, chronology according to the book is for losers because then the whole thing doesn’t end with a battle. There where some differences I did enjoy, like the green fire and the “carriages” – I am not sure if Pullman ever described them that way but it added to the different feel of the world.
Starting from the top, the biggest differences between book and movie:
Serafina Pekkala gives the entry speech, explaining the world. Daemons.
Ok, it probably is rather complicated to get the concept of daemons if you haven’t read the book. Especially with that script. I guess, my approach would have been to let Lyra explain, but I can live with Serafina doing it. Fine by me. The only thing that’s sad is that you don”t gradually learn about the connection between humans and daemons but such small things as the big taboo (Humans are not allowed to touch the daemon of another person) are hardly mentioned at all – you have to guess the devastating effect from Lyra’s reaction in Bolvangar.
On the whole, the connections between humans and daemons was sadly negleceted. That the daemons are supposed to reflect their person’s personality is something you have to guess, again.
Not the Master of Jordan College poisons Asriel’s wine but someone from the Magisterium.
First thing to be cut so that Weitz can be happy with his black-and-white world… The Master’s kindness is never even questionned.
The Magisterium is not religious anymore. It could be anything – a political party, a government, anything in power. I think Weitz didn’t want to scare away the catholic/religious viewers but now the Magisterium is such a vague thing that you don’t really know how to handle it.
Iorek didn’t kill another bear in a fight and therefore broke the rules of Svalbard and had to leave. No, that would have been too much grey (although even in the book, the other bear was poisoned to not give up even when Iorek had proved superior). No, Iorek now was defeated in the fight (by Ragnur), had to leave Svalbard in shame and gets dangerously close to drown in self-pity.
It’s Mrs. Coulter who tells Lyra about Ragnur’s obsession with daemons, something she would have never done in the book – she’s much too calculating for that there. Also, she’s the one to tell Lyra about her being her daughter. (Lyra guesses that her father is Lord Asriel which was not really logical for me.) Nicole Kidman plays her really well (even though I had the feeling that she’s not too comfortable with playing without having the daemon right there) but there’s something about Mrs. Coulter that just doesn’t fit.
Well, Daniel Craig really has the character down. It’s great to watch him swaggering about. But they made no mention of Asriel actually being a pretty big asshole (in the first book anyway). Part of it definitely is owned to the fact that they cut the ending (what a stupid idea was that anyway?). But he’s never the rude, egocentric guy he’s in the book.
Tony Makarios / Billy Costa.
In the first ten minutes, when Billy talks about his daemon Ratter (in the book, it’s Tony’s daemon), I thought “oh no, they cut Tony and will kill Billy instead!”. And that’s what happened. I probably could have lived with that, if they hadn’t really ruined the scene where Lyra finds Billy. One of the saddest things in the book, which regularly makes me cry, was Tony, hanging on to the dried fish and crying for his daemon. When Lyra brings him back to the gyptians (in the book), they are so shocked about someone not having a daemon (Pullman stresses it more than once that that’s like having no head), that at first they don’t even want to go near him.
In the movie, you hardly have time to realise the implications when Lyra finds Billy. And then, when they arrive back at the camp, Ma Costa just hugs Billy, no shock, nothing, telling him that they would find Ratter. WTF? Is it possible that they can reattach him or what? And right after that, the attacks start. No time for a tear-jerker death scene.
The cast is fabulous – leading actors as well as actors in supporting roles. The special effects and the art design is really beautiful. The script is crap and Chris Weitz should be forever ignored for it. Watch the movie, enjoy the view and read the book afterwards and enjoy the story, the depth and the characters.
By the way:
I took the “Meet Your Daemon” test at http://www.goldencompassmovie.com/ and my Daemon is Boreallus, the Snow Leopard. My profile reveals that I am dependable, responsible, modest, solitary and humble. :)