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Golden Compass Opens, Reviews Middling (Updated)

John on December 7, 2007 at 11:33 am

Update 12/08: Things aren’t going well for the Golden Compass:

“The Golden Compass,” a costly fantasy starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, got off to a slow start at the North American box office and will likely fall short of opening-weekend expectations.

New Line Cinema’s $180 million film sold an estimated $8.8 million worth of tickets during its first day in theaters on Friday, according to data issued on Saturday by tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

Sounds like a lot of cash but it works out to around $28 million opening weekend. A chunk of that money (30% the first week or two but more later) stays with the exhibitor. So in the long run, New Line actually needs to make about $300 million to break even.

I predict a steep drop off next weekend, say 35% as word gets out that it’s a turkey. However the Christmas holiday will bring the figures up. I also would bet the overseas box is better than the domestic because the religious issue won’t play against them. It won’t make the movie better though. This could turn out to be a loss New Line can’t afford.

[End update.]

It’s a long awaited day. Phillip Pullman’s anti-Christian fantasy epic has opened in theaters to, shall we say, mixed reviews.

Rotten Tomatoes, which measures theses things, has it at 45% fresh, slightly better among A-list reviewers. Everyone seems to agree that it’s fantastic looking. Of course that’s purely a factor of budget. Many reviewers seem to feel that what’s missing is warmth or magic. In this case the CGI is willing but the spirit is weak.

The notable standout in the pack is Roger Ebert who, incredibly, places it above Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. I’ve enjoyed Ebert’s reviews over the years. He’s able to enjoy something marginal (like Inframan) or grandiose (like Titanic) without having to be such a, well, a critic. So I have to give him the benefit of the doubt based on past performance. Still, one can’t read his review without noticing the somewhat condescending tone toward Christians:

The books have been attacked by American Christians over questions of religion; their popularity in the U.K. may represent more confident believers whose response to other beliefs is to respond, rather than suppress.

I’m not sure Ebert has overcome the controversy so much as gotten irritated that there is one. But as I say, he’s a standout. Most reviewers (including Cassy at Wizbang) are underwhelmed with the Golden Compass.

It’s still going to make a gazillion this weekend.

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