I finally saw The Golden Compass last week, and would describe it as "beautiful with moments of trite." (But then, I'm not the biggest Philip Pullman fan, petering out somewhere in the middle of The Subtle Knife.) Since this blog is all about how things look, however, I definitely think it's worth a viewing since the sets were fantastic.
What I really liked was how the sets managed to blend styles from multiple eras -- Gothic at Jordan College, Art Deco at Mrs. Coulter's house, an old west feel in Trollesund, and then an almost 1960s lab in Bolvangar.
Production designer Dennis Gassner is quoted at About.com on how he created the look: This will be the turn of the century to the '40s. We have that window of 40 years to say…' For costume, for props, everybody needed to have a window in time to deal with. But it's a broad window of time. We're dealing with a generality and that opened things up. It's much more fun for the audience to look at because it is a fantasy, even though we're basing it in a reality environment. We're saying, 'This is a real time, real place that you're in now.' But it gave me the scope to play with a lot of elements of time. And that accumulation is the exciting part about getting to do something like this.”
He calls it "cludging. It's taking one element that exists and another element that exists and putting them together, combining into something else.” A very steampunk perspective, no?
I had also read that he based his aesthetic for the movie on the circle.
Actually, I learn from the interview with Gassner, is that it's a bit more complicated.
“The question that I had for everybody was what is The Golden Compass? And to me, I deal in symbols, I'm the architect of the film. How do you get into a world like this which is a very unusual world, one that I haven't created and nobody has? So you start with that, something simple,” explained Gassner. “The simplicity for me was actually the sphere which became the golden compass. The protagonist and the antagonist of our films, you need symbols, simply become that. The symbol for purity for Lyra and then the antithesis of that would be for me the oval, which is the extension or manifestation of that symbol. So it's nice to have a contrast, and you can start to build the world from there. That's how I started, very simply and very direct.
Both of these ideas -- design inspirations that span 40 years, the circle as a recurring design element -- are ones that you can incorporate into your own home. My own home, which is slowly becoming more and more steampunk, has elements drawn from Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco fraternizing quite nicely together. I also use the circle -- a very steampunk shape -- in many of my home accessories -- mirrors, a large copper bowls on the dining table, etc.
Ugo has a video about steampunk and the look of the movie.