Rampaging War Bears
And Other Nonsense for Junior Atheists
When some people look at a novel, they just see an obese screenplay. Cut a few characters, speed up the action, add some pat narration and rampaging CGI war bears, and there you go: The Golden Compass. Kindly direct the money truck to the back gate of my grand and imposing Hollywood manse!
Anyway, that's why this film adaptation of Philip Pullman's waaay-too-complicated-to-be-made-into-a-movie young-adult fantasy novel doesn't really work. Because it doesn't make any sense. I swear, if I wasn't a grown woman with a freakish love for juvenile fiction involving magic, British children, talking animals, and MAGIC—if I hadn't already read this book (twice, okay? and maybe once on audiobook!)—I would be so confused right now.
Aside from the hopelessly complicated story (there's this magic dust, get it? and it sticks to people—not kids, though! and this girl Lyra has a golden compass! and also, fuck the Catholic Church!), there's simply not enough time for any of these undeveloped characters to give a shit about each other. Loyalties that build up over hundreds of pages are rendered instantaneous on film: "I'm a magic witch that came from the sky! I love you, Lyra!" "I'm Iorek Byrnison, the deposed bear king. I'm drunk! Let's go crush some Russians."
The book's pronounced antireligious streak ("dust" is code for original sin, and the "Magisterium" is bent on eradicating it) has been defanged for red state America, and its ending has been truncated to an abrupt cliff-hanger, which elicited boos from the audience. On the upside, the whole thing is gorgeous, the casting is a triumph, the armored bears are exciting, and Mrs. Coulter's golden monkey daemon is a fucking asshole (as usual). But I'd still rather read the damn book again.