A lot of talk has been thrown around that the movie The Golden Compass did poorly at the box office was because a bunch of trend-following Christian mothers didn’t take their kids to see the movie. Christian fundamentalists congratulated each other on the terrible financial failure of the movie. While I think boycotters might have made a dent, I don’t think that’s why the movie did poorly. It did poorly because it totally sucked.
When I first saw ads for the movie, I was totally psyched. I remember reading the books and becoming engrossed with the series when I was a kid. When I heard there was a boycott, I rolled my eyes and resolved to see it multiple times to help free speech balance out.
I’ve never been so disappointed by a movie. Compass was too short and too fragmented. The movie should have had more time to be developed or should have had less material that needed developing. It was impossible to get involved with any of the sideline characters we should have loved.
The ship captain’s speech fell flat, the battle between polar bears didn’t leave me at the edge of my seat, and all the extra allies were confusingly uninteresting. I didn’t care about Lyra’s friend, the witches, the gypsies, not even the balloonist or the polar bears really. I tried, I truly did. Lord of the Rings knew the secret of creating an involving world: lengthy movies and trimming unnecessary plot threads and characters. Even Peter Jackson knew to cut out Tom Bombadil.
All the threads left no room for anything that wasn’t plot development. “Twists” were unsurprising and half the plot-furthering conveniences felt like a score of dei ex machinis (I’ve never had to use the plural for deus ex machina before). The gypsies swooping in to save her, that her mom’s only non-manipulative sentence was about the polar bear king wanting a DÃ¦mon, the balloonist happening to strike a friendship with Lyra, the witches, finding the Gobbler list in the trash (and correctly interpreting it) added up to a movie that barely felt real.
Not only that, but it was so scrubbed clean of “anti-Christian” sentiments that the crux of the movie was crippled. The connection between “dust” and “sin” was edited out so there was no clear explanation why The Magistrate disliked dust. They just had an unexplained beef against dust.
The whole thing was poorly constructed. The best part of the movie was the glass and steampunk scenery. I couldn’t bring myself to see it again in theatres.
A lot of religious leaders are trying to claim a victory for fundamentalist boycotting, but this simply wasn’t the case. It was a poorly made movie that didn’t live up to its enormous potential. That’s why it didn’t do well. If fundamentalists were behind Compass’ performance, then why didn’t Harry Potter crash and burn or just be an average movie? Because Harry Potter was well made. It’s too bad The Golden Compass wasn’t.