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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Beyond the Golden Compass: The Magic of Philip Pullman (review)

Well, this is mysterious. The cover of this slapped-together documentary about Philip Pullman and his His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy contains this disclaimer: “The production was not authorized, prepared, approved, licensed or endorsed by Philip Pullman, New Line Cinema, or any other individual or entity associated with the His Dark Materials books or any movies based on those books.” I understand the inclusion of New Line in the disclaimer — the studio would justifiably be horrified to think that this poorly produced film might be connected to it, and it does have the stink of cashing-on on a hot commodity all over it. (New Line actually sued Koch Vision, the DVD’s distributor, trying to stop its release.) What I don’t understand is the inclusion of Pullman in the disclaimer: he’s interviewed here, snippets of which appear throughout the film; one of the bonus features is the complete interview with him. He must have approved of it in some way. Though it’s easy to see why he may have rescinded his approval later on. The shallow interviews with scholars of literature are innocuous enough, if spectacularly unenlightening to anyone who has given the slightest bit of thought to Pullman’s fiction — the analysis of Pullman’s characters, situations, and themes could not possibly be more superficial, and it spoils the ending of the book to boot — but the perfunctory dramatizations of key scenes from the first book, The Golden Compass (in England called Northern Lights) are appallingly awful, not just stiltingly performed but so poorly produced that the dialogue is all but unintelligible. Additional extras include extended interviews with the scholars, director’s comments, and more, but really: why bother? [buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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