On Listening to “Golden Compass”

January 3rd, 2008

I read “Golden Compass” 8+ years ago, but I remembered it vividly, or so I thought. Watching the movie was frustrating and disappointing, but hard to pin down exactly why. We picked up the audiobook of “Golden Compass” for our drive to Los Angeles, and finished the last disc just as we turned off the engine having made it back to SF. And I’ve got a scattering of mental notes to get down.

  • The recording is excellent. We’ve been disappointed by a couple of the audiobooks we tried recently, but not this time. The narration is read by the author, with a large cast of voice actors doing the speaking bits. Its really more of an old radio play. Excellent.

  • Except they should have gotten Ian McKellen to do Iorek Bymison, Weitz’s one master stroke.

  • They cut 45% of the story, jumbled the time line (thereby losing the symbolic structure of Pullman’s 3 parts), muddled the motivations, and turned it all very simplistic. (e.g. it was the Master of Jordan who tried to poison Asriel)

  • And they’ve really backed themselves into a corner with regard to the sequels. The transformation of kindly/cuddly Daniel Craig to Miltonian anti-hero is going to be a hell of hat trick in this black&white universe Weitz has constructed.

  • Was vaguely annoyed in the lead up to the movies release by the characterization of HDM as being anti-religion, but couldn’t articulate why until listening again. It isn’t that simple. In Pullman’s world the Church represents both established religion and scientific orthodoxy and reductionism. An incredibly difficult and fascinating pairing, almost entirely unique in my experience, and challenging for the reader.

  • HDM is a multi-verse informed by Einstein, multiplicity and complexity are its touch stones, and the elementary particles, multiple dimensions, and string theory play key narrative metaphors not to mention being well explained for both adults and children. The movie by contrast was more Newtonian, a world of simple perfections.

  • I loved Lee Scoresby as a Mark Twain cowboy, but this reading had me thinking more of Dean Moriarty. Unmistakably so. Fairly sure Pullman had a copy of “On the Road” by his side while constructing his Western vernacular.

  • “Golden Compass” is really a masterpiece, and should be taught.

  • I remember spending several years telling people, “Read the ‘Golden Compass’. Did you like Harry Potter? Yeah? Great, well its nothing like Harry Potter.”

  • Trying to figure out where we’re going to drive to next, so we can listen to “Subtle Knife”.

2 responses to “On Listening to “Golden Compass””

  1. Given the miserable box office returns versus the $180M budget, I wonder if books two and three will ever get made. I so wanted this to be a great movie but knew deep down it wouldn’t be.

  2. kellan says:

    Eric, actually they gives me a bit of hope. Golden Compass was the easiest adaptation.

    I think Peter Jackson ruined us, we used to all know better then to expect a decent epic fantasy.