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THE GOLDEN COMPASS ($40) is one of the most dense and challenging fantasy films to come this way in some time. For some reason THE GOLDEN COMPASS did not click with American audiences, which is a real shame because they missed out on the opportunity to see something truly special up on the big screen. Fortunately, the film was a hit internationally and I certainly hope that the overseas success of THE GOLDEN COMPASS will bode well for the remaining two parts of the trilogy to make their way to cinemas. While I have not read any of the books in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, the film version of THE GOLDEN COMPASS has certainly piqued my curiosity and I will be adding the novels to my recreational reading list.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS is the first book in the trilogy, which was published under the title Northern Lights in other territories. The premise of THE GOLDEN COMPASS follows the notion that there are a number of parallel universes beyond our own, with the actual story taking place in one such parallel universe. In said universe, human souls exist outside the body as companions known as dæmons, while an authoritarian body known as The Magisterium is trying to exact its control over everybody and everything in the world of THE GOLDEN COMPASS. At the center of the film is an orphaned girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards). As THE GOLDEN COMPASS opens, Lyra finds herself swept up into the storm of conspiracies that swirl around the controversial theories of her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), which are dangerous and fly in the face of accepted Magisterium doctrine.

As Lord Asriel departs to the north to prove his theories, Lyra becomes in possession of a device known as an alethiometer, which resembles a golden compass, but instead of pointing north, the alethiometer can provide the true answer to any question. Since alethiometers were long banned by The Magisterium, Lyra has been sworn to hide its existence from Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), who has ties to The Magisterium, but has offered to take the girl north as her assistant. While in the company of Mrs. Coulter, Lyra discovers the woman’s ties to a secret organization, which has been responsible for the disappearances of a great number of local children. Eventually, Lyra flees from Mrs. Coulter clutches, but is able to continue her journey north, with the aide of the nomadic Gyptians, as well as aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott), armoured ice bear Iorek Byrnison (voiced Ian McKellen) and witch clan queen Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green). The cast of THE GOLDEN COMPASS also features Ben Walker, Freddie Highmore, Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay, Ian McShane, Christopher Lee, Kristin Scott Thomas, Edward de Souza, Kathy Bates, Simon McBurney, Jack Shepherd, Magda Szubanski, Derek Jacobi, Clare Higgins and Charlie Rowe.

As I stated above, THE GOLDEN COMPASS is a dense and challenging fantasy film. Condensing the novel into less than a two-hour running time would seem to be the film’s biggest problem, since the material cries out for greater breathing room. There is too much exposition and too many characters to be set in place for a trilogy of epic proportions, with the final film seeming a bit rushed, not to mention much of the story appearing as though it were shoehorned between the opening a closing credits. Perhaps THE GOLDEN COMPASS will be revisited as a director’s cut at some point in the future, so the story and numerous characters can be fleshed out a bit more and the packing can seem less breakneck.

New Line Home Entertainment has made THE GOLDEN COMPASS available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p presentation is a real winner, delivering on the film’s eye candy potential. Since much of THE GOLDEN COMPASS contains digital effects or digital characters, the image has been softened, ever so slightly, to make their presence more seamless. Shots without digital elements are more perfectly realized, but everything matches exceedingly well. Fabric textures and individual hairs are easily discernable, with the picture always demonstrating an excellent level of detail, although it is not taken to the hyper-realistic realm, which is possible with the high definition format. Colors are really beautiful; much of the time the colors appear fully saturated with rich warm hues, while other times, the colors are cold, but no less rich. Blacks are deep, whites are pure and the contrast is very good. Shadow detail is a bit variable; it can be excellent or a tiny bit muddy. The elements from which THE GOLDEN COMPASS have been mastered appear pristine. Grain/digital noise is very fine and silky.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The sound design possesses all the attributes one expects from a big budget fantasy film, plenty of discrete sound effects in the outlying channels, especially during the big action set pieces. This may not be the most gee whiz soundtrack ever created for a motion picture, but it does not disappoint either. Fidelity it tremendous, with the bottom end being able to rock the house. Music is full bodied and rich sounding. Voices have a warm, natural quality, plus the film’s dialogue is always completely understandable. No other language tracks have been included on the DVD, but English and Spanish subtitles are provided.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Disc one features a visually enhanced running Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Chris Weitz, which includes picture-in-picture augmentation (requires a Profile 1.1 player).

Moving on to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming, which consists primarily of featurettes: The Novel: Author Philip Pullman And The Consequences Of Curiosity (twenty minutes); The Adaptation Of Writer/Director Chris Weitz (sixteen minutes); Finding Lyra Belacqua: Introducing Dakota Blue Richards (fifteen minutes); Dæmons (twenty minutes); The Alethiometer: Creating The Truth Measure (fifteen minutes); Production Design: The Emotional Fabric Of A Parallel World (twenty six minutes); Costumes (twelve minutes); Oxford: Lyra's Jordan (eight minutes); Armoured Bears: The Panserbjørne Of Svalbard (eighteen minutes); Music (twelve minutes) and The Launch: Releasing The Film (eight minutes). Image Galleries and Trailers close out the supplements.

While not perfect, I really enjoyed THE GOLDEN COMPASS and look forward to the second and third installments in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy to make their way to the screen. New Line’s Blu-ray release is up to their usual high standards, in other words excellent. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see THE GOLDEN COMPASS, the Blu-ray release is definitely the way to go.



The Golden Compass [Blu-ray] (2007)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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