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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz


A Little Background     Openers     


    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment




The Golden Compass [Blu-ray]


(Chris Weitz, 2007)







Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: New Line Productions & Ingenious Film Partners

Blu-ray: New Line Home Entertainment



Region: A

Runtime: 113

Chapters: 20

Size: 50/25

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 29th, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1



Feature Film: English 7.1 DTS HD Master Lossless. Bonus Features: English DTS 5.1, English DTS 2.0



Feature: English SDH, Spanish. Extras: English SDH, Spanish (on selected items), none



• Disc one: Audio Commentary with Director/Writer Chris Weitz

• Disc two: Origins: The Novel. The Adaptation. Oxford.

• Behind-the-Scenes: Finding Lyra Belacqua. Music. Costumes. Production Design. The Launch.

• Lyra's World: Armoured Bears. The Alethiometer. Daemons.

• Exclusive to Blu-ray: Enhanced Visual Commentary (disc 1)



The Film:

The Movie : 6.5
Released on Blu-ray by New Line only two weeks ahead of Disney's
The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass seems poised to compete in and capitalize on an already saturated market of fantasy children's books, such as The Polar Express, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Bridge to Terabitha, et al. And why not? There is an enormous potential for CG special effects, often incorporating fantastical beasts into live action. I remember being quite impressed with Narnia in the theatre in that respect. Given a smart adaptation – in terms of both storyline and dialogue – compelling performances by the children, eye popping production design and seamless effects, the potential for a successful aftermarket merchandizing blitz or quite possibly even good art, is palpable. To the extent that there is a religious subtext in Narnia, it is not really necessary to make it apparent in the screenplay. Even so, the adaptation sidestepped those questions in favor of a titanic struggle between Good & Evil and a war to end all wars. On the other hand, even if the exploration from the original novel about the nature of God and Religion is ignored, a minimal understanding of the complexities of Pullman's metaphysics in The Golden Compass, are essential if one is to make sense of the concept of parallel universes or the need for animal demons that closely accompany its humans. Writer/director Chris Weitz, whose best work to date is undoubtedly About a Boy, does a serviceable job, even if his text is parsed nearly to the point of sapping its humanity. Instead of such spiritual concerns, what Weitz does offer is a fairly absorbing, if episodic, adventure that fails its otherwise jaw-dropping visuals only in the final battle. The plot involves a plucky, tomboyish girl, Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards in her first film role), an orphan, possibly, of about 12, who lives at a kind of boarding school (think: an Oxford prep school) where she is watched over by its scholars and the occasional visit by her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig - smirking, but not licensed to kill). Asriel's present visit is to get financing for a private expedition to the frozen north where he expects to find a solution to the question of what connects parallel universes (would you believe: Dust!), a inquiry that the Magisterium would as soon not be addressed, let alone answered. (There are touches of The Name of the Rose here.)

In the midst of inexplicable kidnappings of the local children, enters the seductive Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman, who always works well as a blonde) who endeavors to keep Lyra close, believing that she might be an important cog in this drama, but the girl, sensing danger, escapes with a truth-telling Golden Compass. Along the way, with the aid of a giant, armored, white bear named Iorek Byrnison and an awesomely moustachioed pilot, Lee Scouresby (Sam Elliott – who else!) and others, Lyra learns what has become of the children and sets about on an episodic journey to the ice worlds of the north to rescue them. This summary of the plot omits one of its more fascinating and problematic aspects: the daemons. (I can feel my eyebrows tightening every time I come across one of Pullman's spelling contrivances, which abound in this story and pale in their juvenile comparison to Tolkein's authoritative imaginations.) These creatures are shape shifters for children, but for adults, have settled into a form that represents their true nature. In any case, the daemon is the physical manifestation of the soul, and can be seen flitting about, or investigating this or that crook or nanny – rarely very far from their corresponding human. They also speak (in some familiar voiceovers) and dialog with their human forms. And they are vulnerable.



Image : 9 (9~9.5/9)
The score of 9 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value on a ten-point scale for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre.

There is a gossamer at work in all aspects of the image that smoothes out facial textures, but also lends hair, especially Nicole's, a fine quality not often present even in high definition. Perhaps it's all very deliberate in order to make the CG effects appear more seamless. Or perhaps, it's just part of the intended look of the film. Never having seen the movie in the theatre (this confession is becoming awkward for me) I can't say how the Blu-ray compares, but I found the effect exactly proper and suited the fantastic aspects of the story and production design perfectly.

One complaint, more properly of the design than the image per se, is of the final battle, where a lack of color differentiation between the participants and the general melee struck me as making little dramatic or visual sense. It was just a big mess. I had no idea from the action what the intention of the Samoyeds was at this point in the story. I shall say no more.













Audio & Music:

Audio & Music : 7/6
The audio mix is problematic, but not without its fine points. I am recalling the moment that the giant bear, Iorek, retrieves his armour and scares the bejeebies out of the onlookers – me, too. Yikes, what a sound! There's some nice bass in other moments, too, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was all for – dare I say it – effect. I don't think I would have had that feeling if it weren't for the oddly balanced music score (too loud, too often) and a less than well-proportioned dialogue track.



Operations : 7
Easy to understand, easy to navigate.



Extras : 8
In addition to the commentary by the director/screenwriter along with the feature film, New Line also gives us an entire second disc chock full of Bonus Features – 3 hours worth - that document every conceivable aspect of the film making, from the adaptation of the novel (including some comment from Pullman himself), the casting auditions for the best of all possible Lyras, all aspects of production design from costumes, to special effects, to the music to the design and manufacture of the altheometer. These features are in pretty decent HD. Also on Disc One, is an enhanced visual commentary, a Blu-ray exclusive, which permits a picture-in-picture adjunct to
Chris's informative commentary.



Bottom line:

Recommendation : 8
Despite a list of well-known, mostly British, actors, it is Dakota Blue, who is in nearly every scene, who carries the film with conviction, courage and charm, as if she was Lyra herself. And, even though I thought the film had problems, mostly in the screenplay, it is very much worth seeing. Try renting first. You might get hooked.

Leonard Norwitz
May 10, 2008








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