The Golden Compass appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I found a lot to like in this splendid transfer.
No issues related to sharpness occurred. Despite the many wide shots that occurred, the image remained rock solid. I saw no softness at all, as the picture appeared crisp and detailed. I also detected no jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement seemed absent. Those in search of print defects will hunt in vain, as I witnessed no specks, marks, or flaws of any sort in this clean presentation.
Compass displayed a moderately stylized palette. Much of it went with something of a golden tone, while northern scenes mainly used a cold blue/gray. The DVD clearly replicated the movie’s intended palette. The colors were appropriately vivid when necessary and seemed accurately depicted. Black levels also came across well. Dark shots demonstrated good depth and clarity. Low-light shots were nicely displayed and seemed clear and adequately visible. Shadow detail was clean and tight. Again, this was a very strong presentation that reproduced the movie swimmingly.
The Golden Compass included both Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 soundtracks. Across the board, I found the two soundtracks to seem identical. I flipped back and forth between the pair and noticed no differences at all. Often I detect some improvement in transparency or bass response for the DTS mix, but that didn’t happen here. Instead, the two tracks came across as exceedingly similar – and loud. Be careful with that volume control, as I needed to turn it down about 5db lower than normal for both the DD and DTS mixes.
The soundfields appeared very active and involving. All five channels presented lots of material that kept the viewer at the center of a realistic and immersive world. Elements seemed appropriately placed and they blended together well. Flying creatures soared from location to location accurately, and other pieces popped up in their proper places too. The whole thing meshed together quite nicely, and the piece worked nicely. Not surprisingly, battle sequences were the most impressive, but the entire package seemed strong.
Audio quality equaled the positive nature of the soundfield. Speech was natural and distinctive, and I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant, as the score presented rich and full tones. Effects came across as accurate and concise. No problems with distortion appeared, and these elements were clean and broad. Bass response was excellent, as low-end consistently sounded tight and powerful. The audio of Compass presented a positive experience.
This two-disc “Platinum Series” release of Compass packs many extras. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary from writer/director Chris Weitz. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion of story elements and the adaptation of the source novel, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, production design and cinematography, costumes and props, various effects, and a few other elements.
Weitz takes the “screen-specific” concept pretty seriously here, as he almost always sticks pretty closely to a discussion of the parts of the movie as they pass. That means we don’t get much context, but Weitz nonetheless manages to offer a nice production overview. He digs into the different aspects of the flick well and makes sure that we remain involved in his chat.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D and the World Wildlife Fund. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with promos for Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, The Last Mimzy, The Lord of the Rings and The Snow Queen.
Over on DVD Two, we find a mix of featurettes and galleries. We start with The Novel, a 19-minute and six-second program that includes remarks from Weitz, author Philip Pullman, producer Deborah Forte, Newcastle University Professor Children’s Literature Kim Reynolds, Darkness Visible: Inside the World of Philip Pullman author Nicholas Tucker, executive producers Ileen Maisel, Mark Ordesky and Andrew Miano, and actors Daniel Craig and Dakota Blue Richards. We learn about how Pullman became an author, the development of the novels and characters, and the project’s move to the screen. “Novel” becomes a little too fluffy at times, as it tells us a lot about how great the books are. Still, we find some good insights and the program works well enough to satisfy.
More info comes to us via the 16-minute and 11-second The Adaptation. It provides notes from Weitz, Ordesky, Forte, Miano, Richards, Craig and actor Nicole Kidman. Despite its title, “Adaptation” doesn’t tell us much about the script. Instead, it focuses more on how Weitz got the gig, left it, came back, and dealt with the production. Expect more happy talk here, but there’s also some reasonably blunt discussion of the problems experienced through the search for a director and the fan reactions to Weitz.
A look at casting emerges through Finding Lyra Belacqua. The 15-minute and eight-second show involves Weitz, Richards, Pullman, Forte, Kidman, Craig, Dakota’s mother Mickey Richards, and casting directors Fiona Weir and Lucy Bevan. We look at the auditions process and see how Richards got the part. Plenty of good behind the scenes shots help make this an involving program.
Daemons runs 19 minutes, 55 seconds and offers remarks from Pullman, Weitz, Kidman, Richards, senior VFX supervisor Mike Fink, supervising art director Richard Johnson, Rhythm & Hues Studios VFX supervisor Bill Westonhofer, puppeteer Tommy Luther, VFX standby propman Wes Peppiat, Rhythm & Hues animation director Erik Jan de Boer, Rhythm & Hues co-VFX supervisor Raymond Chen, and actor Freddie Highmore. Pullman tells us how he came up with daemons in the book, and the others tell us how they were brought to life for the film. That means we learn about character design, effects and other technical elements. The show mixes creative info with nuts and bolts details to present a nice glimpse of the issues.
For a glimpse of the film’s iconic prop, we head to The Alethiometer. It fills 14 minutes, 56 seconds with statements from Weitz, Pullman, Richards, Johnson, production designer Dennis Gassner, prop master Barry Gibbs, conceptual artist Virginie Bourdin, prop maker James Enright, metal worker Edward Barton, modeller Christopher Clarke, and enamel artist Keith Seldon. This piece looks at the design and creation of the alethiometer. Ala “Daemons”, this one digs into both creative and technical subjects. It becomes a satisfying examination of the subject matter.
Next comes the 26-minute and one-second Production Design featurette. It features Weitz, Forte, Gassner, Pullman, Gibbs, Enright, Johnson, Ordesky, Bourdin, Miano, construction manager Andrew Evans, conceptual artist Dan Walker, director of photography Henry Braham, special FX supervisor Trevor Wood, senior special effects Rodney Fuller, snow man Steve Shelly, armorer Nicholas Jeffries, and actor Sam Elliott. The show covers the conceptual design of the sets and other production elements before it digs into specific details about these components and how the filmmakers constructed them. It’s another useful program packed with good details.
We take a glimpse of the movie’s clothes via Costumes. This show goes for 11 minutes, 48 seconds with Weitz, Forte, Craig, Richards, Kidman, Elliott, Pullman, costume designer Ruth Myers, costume supervisor William McPhail, and actors Eva Green, Steve Loton, Jim Carter, Derek Jacobi, and Simon McBurney. As expected, we find out about the design of the costumes as well as aspects of their creation. I feel like a broken record, but I have to offer praise for this piece, as it becomes useful and fun like its predecessors.
Locations come to the fore in the seven-minute and 32-second Oxford. It provides statements from Pullman, Forte, Gassner, Weitz, and Braham. Some decent notes about the English college locations and their depiction on film emerge in this reasonably involving piece.
Armoured Bears goes for 17 minutes, 42 seconds and includes Weitz, Pullman, Fink, Enright, Gibbs, Richards, Framestore CFC animation supervisor Dadi Einarsson, Framestore VFX supervisor Ben Morris, Framestore R&D and effects supervisor Alex Rothwell, and Framestore creative supervisor Matthew Hughes. “Bears” acts like a companion to “Daemons”, as it covers the same sorts of creative and technical issues discussed there. Of course, here the program focuses on the titular bears, and it provides a satisfactory examination of their design and implementation.
We learn more about the film’s score with Music. During the 11-minute and 49-second piece, we hear from Weitz, executive music producer Paul Broucek, and composer Alexandre Desplat. The piece gives us information about the score and its recording. It’s not one of the DVD’s most fascinating shows, but it works acceptably well.
Finally, The Launch runs seven minutes, 58 seconds and offers notes from Weitz, Miano, Richards, Elliott, Mickey Richards, Forte, Pullman, junket producer Colin Burrows, New Line Cinema Senior VP International Publicity Tracy Lorie, hair and makeup artist Yvette Redmond, and journalists Liso Mzimba and Ward Verrijcken. We get a look at the publicity machine and how Richards had to perform under that spotlight, but the program mainly exists to tell us what a great kid she remains.
In addition to both a teaser and two theatrical trailers, DVD Two includes some galleries. Most of these provide thumbnailed stills. These come under “Daemons” (35 images), “Production Design” (122 across three subdomains), “Costumes” (56), “Armoured Bears” (12) and “Posters” (16). We also get an “interactive gallery” for “The Alethiometer”. It gives us a close-up look at all the symbols on the device. Plenty of good elements appear across these collections, though I probably like “Costumes” and “Posters” most of all.
I enjoy good fantasy films, but unfortunately, The Golden Compass lacks much to make it a quality piece of entertainment. It tells a muddled tale with underdeveloped characters and little involving action. I can’t fault this DVD, though, as it presents excellent picture and audio along with a strong collection of supplements. If you like Compass, this release is well worth your time, but I find it hard to recommend the mediocre film otherwise.