I took the guys to see this movie today. I have never read Pullman's stuff--he started up too late for me to enjoy him as a kid, and our sons are too young to have gotten into him yet (well--the older one could read them now, actually), and so I am at long last one of those people who saw the movie without having bothered to read the book. And all evidence suggests that the book is better. Which of course is inevitable for any decent book, because it's a book, and a movie is never a better book than a book, unless the book was written expressly for the purpose of getting turned into a movie.
But as a movie, The Golden Compass is pretty decent, and the young lead actress is terrific, and Ian MacKellen is very fine as a polar bear (sorry--an ice bear, which is a like a very large polar bear that talks like Ian MacKellen), which the CGI geniuses have actually managed to make look quite a lot like Ian MacKellen when he talks.
I post about it here though because I read a review of it last week in our local Gannett paper, which utterly trashed it, leaving it with an anemic star and a half. Gannett is not in the business of disliking things--liking them is more profitable for everyone--and so this review, which stressed the "emotional coldness" of the film, struck me as a possible right-wing hit piece aimed at the movie's apparent anti-Christian bias. (And let me say that, yes indeed, it does seem to be pretty unsympathetic to religion, a sentiment Pullman has been more than happy to confirm in interviews.)
And so, hit piece it was, I think. Surely word came down from corporate that The Golden Compass must be snuffed out. Because, although the movie is not great, it's thoroughly entertaining, and posits some extremely interesting fantasy what-if's, most remarkable among them the idea of human souls taking the form of animal familiars. I assume this is straight from Pullman, as it's too smart for a movie otherwise--the implications of this arrangement allow for all kinds of fascinating psychological experimentation. Nicole Kidman, for instance, as Cruella DeVil (or somebody like her), actually abuses her own soul, then tearfully mommies up to it as it whimpers on her shoulder. BAD ASS!
I'm no atheist (agnostic to the core, thank you), but it certainly is nice to see this kind of moral rigor (however smarmily presented) thrown onto a big-screen kids' movie. It's thought-provoking, and the bears are way cool. I believe I will try to get Owen into Pullman ASAP.