Lori and I took a rare night out last night, first snowstorm night of the year. She wanted to see "I'm Not There," but I just wasn't too keen on it. But then we saw that there were some "sneak preview" showings of "The Golden Compass" around the area, so we decided to catch one down in Southfield. For those familiar with the area, we were at Star Southfield, a 20-plex that's gone shockingly downhill since AMC took over there a while back. Maybe it was the snow, but it seemed nearly empty there this evening, and all the eateries and side shops in the complex have been closed save a single sad sub shop. The subs were pretty good, anyway.
But on to the movie. First things first: No matter how this is promoted, "The Golden Compass" is not a good movie for young kids. We left our kids at home, and I'm glad we did. Aaron would have had a very difficult time following the plot, as especially at the beginning it's very dense; Elianna would have been scared at several points in the movie. Also, though there isn't much blood, there's a lot of violence and death. On the other hand, we ran in to one of Aaron's best friends there, along with his whole family, and it looked like they came out unscarred.
I'll note here that I have not read the His Dark Materials Trilogy books, nor had I read some of the more "controversial" articles that have shown up at various sites, so let's start with the basics. No one kills God in this movie. The book's author, Philip Pullman has been quoted to great extent on his beliefs; however, the claim (by would-be protesters) that "there is no God" is not in this movie. Whoever is sending those notes, not only hasn't seen the movie, they really have little idea what's in it.
As for the content... It's a solid fairy tale for older kids and adults. Not as inventive, nor I think as well made, as last summer's "Stardust," but enjoyable in its own right. Dakota Blue Richards, in the role of Lyra, is fantastic. Unfortunately, the same can't quite be said for Nicole Kidman in the role of Darth Coulter... oops, Mrs. Coulter. The film makers even got Christopher Lee to reprise his role as Count Dooku... oh, make that First High Councilor. That is to say, the patterning on "Star Wars" seems awfully heavy, especially once the movie gets rolling and the soundtrack starts to become overwhelming. In one scene, when a "big secret" was revealed, I just leaned over to Lori and whispered, "Luuuuuuke! Luuuuuuke!," and she about doubled over... it was just too easy. In some respects the most interesting parts were at the very beginning, when the concepts of the parallel universes and of people having daemons were explained.
As with "Star Wars," this movie is basically a big adventure with some symbolism you can either take seriously, or ignore. The Empire... er, Magisterium, is presented as a caricature of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, with lots of fascist storm troopers - many with really bad head gear. Essentially, they seek to control all thought by disconnecting people from their souls. Of course, they're only there to help you (and yes, they even use that line). Free thought would undermine them, so they muse eliminate it. The Force is Dust, and trust your feeling is now ask the Golden Compass. Lyra, the child of prophecy (sound familiar?), must use The Golden Compass to save her world... and all others.
While I definitely had the impression that I'd seen this basic story before, the adventure was still a bunch of fun. The bear fight was wonderful, getting applause in the theater. And the climactic battle scene was spectacular.
Unfortunately, the movie ended without anything resembling resolution, beyond advertising that there will be a sequel. I half expect it'll be called "The Magisterium Strikes Back."
As for Dobson-style protests, forget it -- there's really nothing to protest.