I had the chance to see a couple of movies this weekend - one made-for-TV movie, and one regular release. I watched A&E's The Andromeda Strain and The Golden Compass. I had completely opposite reactions to these films. I loved The Golden Compass, and, at the end of Andromeda, wondered why I'd wasted my time.
I had wanted to see both films, despite mixed reviews, and poor audience turn-outs. The Andromeda Strain was about 2 hours too long, and I could have done without the whole Eric McCormack, reporter sub-plot. The visual FX were OK, and the script wasn't too bad (for a disaster film), but what really drove the piece was the cast. Stand-out performances came from Scrubs' Christa Miller (IMDB here) and the always amazing Viola Davis (IMDB here). Benjamin Bratt and Rick Schroder turned in decent performances (Schroder played a gay Major in the Army), and the rest of the cast managed not to embarrass itself... which isn't really the nicest thing one can say about the cast of a film, but it is true.
The production was deftly directed by Mikael Salomon, who kept the overall pace of the story moving. Too ofter, mini-series spend time doubling back on plot points, building in redundant scenes. But Andromeda managed to keep moving at a brisk, solid pace. The editing in the second installment could have been a little tighter, but what are you going to do?
The Golden Compass, on the other hand, was an absolute masterpiece. Too many fantasy and action flicks depend on CGI to carry the film (Phantom Menace, anyone?). But The Golden Compass actually has a solid, interesting story at its heart, so the CGI simply serves as a means to deliver the story. (George Lucas, take notes!) Nicole Kidman is delicious as the villan, and there's a menagerie of character actors to round out the rest of the cast.
It isn't very often that a film makes me want to read a book - usually it is the other way around. But after viewing the first installment of The Golden Compass, I must admit, I'd like to read the books by Phillip Pullman.