The Golden Compass (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

No, it’s not deja vu, it really is Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman in another movie together. Audiences may (or may not, now that I factor in the box office of “The Invasion”) remember the two Europeans from last summer’s sci-fi blunder “The Invasion”) and no less than six months later, here they are again. Granted, the two don’t really share a scene but their names are on the poster and, well, that’s all that counts right? Suffice it to say that there’s much more to “The Golden Compass” than meets the eye. Try as I might, I really can’t find what the uproar is all about and I tried. I really did. The film is supposedly written by an atheist and has values that have upset the Catholic Church. Again, try as I might I just couldn’t see what it was about this movie that made so many people so angry. The film is based on the best-selling book by Phillip Pullman, and maybe that’s who or what so many people are basing their opinions on. Nevertheless, I found “The Golden Compass” to be intriguing and here’s what to expect when you pop in the disc.

The movie opens with a voiceover and it gives us all the information we need to know. The film takes place on an alternate version of Earth where people’s souls reside on the outside and manifest themselves in the form of an animal. These are called “daemons” and every human has them. The heroine of the film is Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a very young and talented actress who commands nearly every scene she’s in. She’s thrust into a predicament in which she’s to head north to save her best friend and a slew of other children who have been kidnapped. Her Uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), is high up in the ministry and has learned of “dust” a microscopic particle that’s said to unite worlds. Purists don’t want this to happen and we then meet Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), who just might be the devil in disguise. Lyra’s also been given an Aleithometer (“The Golden Compass”), a very rare instrument in which she can find out the truth to any question asked. Will Lyra be able to save the children and herself too?

I’ve gotten my share of the sci-fi/fantasy films lately having just recently watched all of the “Harry Potter” movies, “The Water Horse” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, but there’s one thing that all of these have in common: they’re all good films. I personally don’t see what the big deal with this film in particular is, but every good movie will always have its opposition, I suppose. My main complaint with the film is that it’s too short and the ending feels truncated. I do realize that this is part of a trilogy (I mean really, what isn’t these days) and that the movie is being set up for a “Part II” but each installment should stand on its own as well. The special effects are amazing and the film even won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects and it was well-deserved. While “The Golden Compass” won’t please everyone I found it entertaining, but to each his own.

Video: How does it look?

“The Golden Compass” is shown in a very gorgeous and very wide 2.40:1 VC-1 HD transfer. The physical look and feel of the film is unique and is literally all over the map. There are some scenes, such as the opening, that look amazing with the multi-colored dust sprawling over the entire screen. Detail level is amazing with even some of the most minute items looking crisp and sharp. The third act takes place in the north where the transfer takes on a darker tone and does suffer a bit, but not too much. Flesh tones seem warm and natural giving this fantasy a more realistic look to it. On the whole, a great transfer and certainly representative of New Line’s commitment to excellence.

Audio: How does it sound?

New Line’s list of Blu-ray’s is short, but oh how they’ve made an impression on me. Like Fox, New Line is a supporter of DTS Master Audio and for me, it doesn’t get any better. I was prepared for a rich and robust mix and I got one. There are so many different ways in which the audio rocks, it’s hard to list. First off the dialogue, very warm and natural as we’d expect and as we hear Ian McKellen’s booming voice (he plays a bear), it permeates the room. The effects are a lot more spread out and it gives the entire soundtrack a very wide arrangement. That sounds confusing, I know, but it makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a huge field and the action is going on all around you. That, of course, is the point and it’s done with great accuracy. The LFE are used heavily and this adds to the entire ambiance of the soundtrack.

Supplements: What are the extras?

New Line is all about the two-disc Blu-ray’s, even though I’m fairly sure that all of this could have fit on one disc. We start out with a commentary by director Chris Weitz and right off the bat I found it hard to believe that this is the same person who directed “American Pie” and “About a Boy”. The man has range, folks. Weitz gives a decent commentary and we also get a “Blu-ray exclusive” in which there’s a visual commentary as well. Mainly it’s just a few scenes that pop up from time to time giving us some behind the scenes glimpses of the film. The second disc contains the remainder of the supplements and there are about a dozen featurettes, some in HD and some in standard definition. We get some interviews with Phillip Pullman (the author) as well as some more footage with Weitz. There are some segments that feature costume design, set design and production design as well as the visual effects that garnered the film an Academy Award. Just about every technical aspect of the film is covered here and New Line has done a fine job with their most recent release.

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