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The Golden Compass
Album Cover Art
Composed, Co-Orchestrated, Conducted, and Produced by:

Co-Orchestrated by:
Conrad Pope

Performed by:
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New Line Records
(January 22th, 2008)
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Regular U.S. release. The album was made available for download several weeks ahead of the CD release date.
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you are knowledgeable enough about the plot of The Golden Compass to let Alexandre Desplat's intricate thematic constructs and textual diversity lead you on a loyal musical journey through the story.

Avoid it... if you expect the intelligent quantity of themes and depth of ensemble in this score to translate into the powerful resonance and memorability of Howard Shore's genre-defining scores for The Lord of the Rings.
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WRITTEN 2/2/08
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The Golden Compass: (Alexandre Desplat) Few series of fantasy novels have stirred the pot of religious controversy as deeply as Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials," which examines concepts of nature and Christianity that Evangelicals find intolerably blasphemous. The success of the trilogy in print, as well as a renaissance of similar adaptations of children's fantasy to the big screen since 2001, led New Line Cinema to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the concept with hopes of reprising the overwhelming success of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films. As with most of these concepts, the details of the plot are largely inconsequential when discussing the music written for their adaptations, with the exception of the extent to which a composer attempts to address individual lines of action, notions, or characters that recur throughout the stories. Attention to such detail was easily the intent of French composer Alexandre Desplat, whose assignment to The Golden Compass follows several dramatic entries into the international spotlight over the past few years. Acclaim has largely resulted from scores like The Painted Veil and The Queen, among many others, and Desplat is commonly considered the foremost composer from France working today. He received plenty of advice from director Chris Weitz about the sound desired for the project, and film score veterans will be able to pick up on the subtleties of these inspirations throughout the score. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of the large, orchestral score's direction is Desplat's treatment of the subject matter with the same respect to trilogy development and thematic integration as Howard Shore achieved with his immensely popular scores for The Lord of the Rings. Desplat follows Shore's lead in the incorporation of a surprisingly detailed and large collection of themes, weaving them into the narrative with such efficiency that a person familiar with the film can easily follow the action through the score. Additionally, Desplat provides fragments and whole sections of themes in ways that foreshadow the two future scores, with unexplicable little motifs heard throughout The Golden Compass that could very well have been meant to be explored further in the sequels.

Several tragic factors in the production of The Golden Compass cause problems with the score and disrupt the intelligent design that Desplat likely conjured when outlining his themes (and their presentation). First, the producers of the film rearranged significant portions of the novel and completely left off the natural end of the story in the film (despite filming it, interestingly). This editing came so late in production that Desplat could not have anticipated them when preparing his own development of the music. The fact that one of the score's best cues is completely absent from a deleted scene from later in the film is only the beginning of the problems. More disturbing is the fact that The Golden Compass did not fare anywhere near as well in the theatres as New Line had hoped, putting in jeopardy the trilogy's marketability and potentially leaving some of Desplat's musical ideas in a lame duck status. That said, when you step back and look at Desplat's music for The Golden Compass, anyone who pays attention to the details of his score can clearly hear the composer's extremely intelligent thematic usage throughout the work. If you take Shore's The Lord of the Rings as the mould, then the assignment of themes to the vast collections of characters and situations in the film is necessary. And Desplat succeeds brilliantly in these regards. He rarely varies his constructs in The Golden Compass, meaning that the themes he devises can be readily recognized in various instrumental and rhythmic guises. As with his scores like Birth and The Painted Veil, there is rarely a moment when there isn't some statement of a theme in progress. In the case of The Golden Compass, there are so many of them that some listeners (and especially those unfamiliar with the books or film) will become lost. This leads to the greatest weakness of The Golden Compass: a lack of overarching identity that Shore managed to attain through the heavy emphasis of one theme in each of his films. The "Fellowship" theme was the first film's dominant and memorable musical element, and the trilogy somewhat adopted it as is overarching identity through Return of the King. While featuring an abundance of good candidates, The Golden Compass has no such identifier.

Before delving into the some of the larger conceptual difficulties that plague the music for The Golden Compass, merit has to be awarded to Desplat for his multitude of themes. None of them is a show-stopper, and some will remind you of other scores. But their sheer number is ambitious enough to reward any fan of the stories with an intellectual musical journey through each concept. The first theme heard in the score is one for Dust, a five-note motif often performed by Tibetan singing bowl, xylophone, piano, gong, and flute. Its cyclical presentation and simple, rising structure in the score's prologue sequence will raise memories of Danny Elfman's Batman, though film music purists will reference this theme all the way back to Bernard Herrmann, who himself has seemingly influenced Desplate here on several occasions. A more extroverted variation on this theme exists in several places throughout The Golden Compass, and it's difficult to determine if Desplat considers these similar ideas (which often share counterpoint) to be derived from the same notion. The robust ensemble performances of this Dust variant is about as close as Desplat would come to providing a title theme, using its performances to highlight vast cinematography for the concept of the journey that prevails throughout the novels. The full displays of this theme in "Sky Ferry," "Lord Asriel," and "Ragnar Sturlusson" are its most obvious statements, whereas the subdued construct of the Dust theme, sometimes only punctuating an appearance of the alethiometer, is far more obscure. The rhythmic movement of "Sky Ferry" will remind Desplat collectors of the travelling music in Syriana. The young girl at the heart of the story receives two major themes (Desplat has claimed that she has three, but two of them seemingly overlap with such regularity that for the purposes of trying to keep things simple, we'll discuss them in terms of two themes). Her primary theme is a delightfully pretty woodwind melody that gracefully moves with some shared progressions from James Horner's An American Tail.

In its more fluttering and innocent movements, Lyra's primary theme is among Desplat's weakest for the film, and one of the more curious aspects of his entire score is the fact that the theme's most dominant performances are in the final two cues; in these cues, the theme still features an innocence that the character is quickly losing in the story. This particularly applies to the "Epilogue," though this cue makes a fantastic transition from a solo performance of the theme to an ensemble representation with victorious trumpet counterpoint at the end. The victory is a bit misleading at that point, but it sure makes for a satisfying closing to the score. The second theme involving Lyra is the one that develops along with her bond with the bear Iorek. This theme explodes with its most obvious and heroic performance at the outset of "Riding Iorek" and accompanies the emotions of Iorek's battle and victory over Ragnar in "Ice Bear Combat" (with agony) and "Iorek's Victory" (with relief). The rolling orchestral performance in "Riding Iorek" is a blatant tug at the climactic moments of John Williams' E.T., even down to the pulsating brass accompaniment. A noble theme for Iorek himself is less often utilized, introduced in full in "Iorek Byrnison," and receives its most glorious moment on brass near the opening of "Iorek's Victory." One of the score's more enjoyable themes is short on appearances; the courageous theme for Serafina Pekkala does explode, however, in the rescue sequence of "Battle with the Tartars." A string theme for Mrs. Coulter (and extending to her daemon) is an intoxicating, rising movement over waves of hypnotic rhythms that suggest some of the physical appeal of Jerry Goldsmith's Basic Instinct. This theme would be best explored, naturally, in her introductory "Mrs. Coulter" and would flourish with a short trumpet fanfare at the end of "The Magisterium." The thematic representation for the Magisterium itself uses the same fluid movement as the theme for Mrs. Coulter, and Desplat intentionally blurs the lines between them. While the two themes mingle, the Magisterium's idea is often given away by the deliberately shifting and ominous accompaniment in the lowest regions of the woodwinds and on piano. This theme, most easily heard in between the giddy title theme statements in "Sky Ferry," would largely become lost in more ambient sequences later in the score.

Ratings Icon
Average: 3.51 Stars
***** 239 5 Stars
**** 187 4 Stars
*** 176 3 Stars
** 97 2 Stars
* 82 1 Stars
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Please grow up
Teo - April 18, 2013, at 10:16 a.m.
1 comment  (1290 views)
The Golden Compass Formula
Bruno Costa - December 14, 2010, at 3:21 p.m.
1 comment  (1598 views)
Ending   Expand >>
Sam - February 10, 2008, at 11:30 a.m.
4 comments  (4822 views)
Newest: February 19, 2008, at 10:18 p.m. by
Alternate review of The Golden Compass at Movie Music UK
Jonathan Broxton - February 7, 2008, at 10:00 a.m.
1 comment  (2312 views)
Excellent score... and here's an even longer review
Michael McLennan - February 5, 2008, at 3:53 p.m.
1 comment  (1819 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
Total Time: 74:03
• 1. The Golden Compass (2:22)
• 2. Sky Ferry (2:44)
• 3. Letters from Bolvangar (2:33)
• 4. Lyra, Roger and Billy (1:29)
• 5. Mrs. Coulter (5:20)
• 6. Lyra Escapes (3:44)
• 7. The Magisterium (1:58)
• 8. Dust (1:10)
• 9. Serafina Pekkala (1:50)
• 10. Lee Scoresby's Airship Adventure (1:20)
• 11. Iorek Byrnison (5:28)
• 12. Lord Faa, King of the Gyptians (2:17)
• 13. The Golden Monkey (2:04)
• 14. Riding Iorek (4:38)
• 15. Samoyed Attack (1:21)
• 16. Lord Asriel (2:10)
• 17. Ragnar Sturlusson (6:18)
• 18. Ice Bear Combat (2:15)
• 19. Iorek's Victory (1:26)
• 20. The Ice Bridge (1:33)
• 21. Rescuing the Children (2:18)
• 22. Intercision (2:47)
• 23. Mother (3:35)
• 24. Battle with the Tartars (4:31)
• 25. Epilogue (3:33)
• 26. Lyra - written and performed by Kate Bush (3:19)

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The insert includes no extra information about the score or film.
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The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from The Golden Compass are Copyright © 2008, New Line Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 2/2/08 (and not updated significantly since).
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