The Golden Compass

By Mark Ramsey | 2007/12/18

The bears are wearing armor.

I have to start there because nothing sums up a steep downhill slide like the prospect of armored bears, except maybe an armored bear with the unmistakeable voice of Ian McKellen, a.k.a. Gandalf the Polar.


Leave it to our ‘tweenage hero, Dakota Blue Richards, to save the day. “When you’re named after a stripper,” she says, “you’re naturally attracted to things pole and polar.”

There’s one Golden Compass left – and only one person alive who can read it. I’m not sure what that means except that the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. Fortunately, it’s a universe parallel to our own, so we don’t own that problem.

How do we know this isn’t our universe? Because in ours talking polar bears generally consider armor to be too confining.

Plus, in The Golden Compass’s universe everyone has a British accent except the animals, who are too busy stowing their feces off camera to worry about elocution.

From the lobby I heard this comment from director Ridley Scott, who otherwise had clean hands and nothing to do with this movie: “We were contemplating talking animals in Blade Runner, but we wanted to hold off Sean Young’s descent into madness at least until the end of principal shooting.”

In this different universe, everyone has a “demon” at their side, and that demon takes animal form. Even Sam Elliot, who looks like his demons come by the six-pack.

Wait, Sam Elliot?


Yes, he of the western gear who pilots a sailing barge across the sky, powered by hooch and stubble. Sam’s got a mustache as big as all outdoors and loaded with enough brick-a-brack to host its own garage sale.

Our young hero enlists Sam to her mission, which would have worked out better if her mission was to chew tobacco. So off Dakota Blue and Sam go, followed by the crane which suspends his gonads precariously above the floor.

Nicole Kidman waltzes into her first scene with a Marilyn Monroe whisper and a Rita Hayworth hairstyle. Her animal demon is a little monkey, and if you’re making short-jokes in your head about Tom Cruise, don’t blame me.

Not all demons are created equal. I notice that heroic types have big jungle cats for demons, while bad guys have yucky insects, and kids have cuddly kittens. “There’s so much animal crap in this parallel universe you wouldn’t believe it,” says Sam Elliot in a drawl so grumbled and low-pitched that ice sheets across the Antarctic shattered into the ocean and Nicole Kidman’s teeth visibly vibrated – which is more action than those teeth got during her entire marriage to Mr. Cruise.

Lots of talk about dust. Dust, dust, dust. “If you control the dust, you control the children and they will not question authority.” You also control the shine on my coffee table, but that hardly portends the end of the world.

Coincidentally, “dust” is what plans for a sequel to this movie will be gathering.

Ultimately, here’s what I learned from The Golden Compass: Don’t end a movie in a way that obviously sets up a sequel…

…unless moviegoers tell you they want one first.

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