Movie Review for The Golden Compass (2007)

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The Golden Compass

Review #578 of 365
Movie Review of The Golden Compass (2007) [PG-13] 113 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.00
Where Viewed: Harkins Ciné Capri at Northfield 18, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 1 December 2007
Time: 7:30 pm
DVD Release Date: 29 April 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Directed by: Chris Weitz (About a Boy)
Screenplay by: Chris Weitz (About a Boy) based on The Northern Lights aka The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Nicole Kidman (The Invasion) • Daniel Craig (The Invasion) • Dakota Blue Richards (debut) • Ben Walker (The Notorious Bettie Page) • Freddie Highmore (August Rush) • Ian McKellen (Stardust) • Eva Green (Casino Royale) • Jim Carter (The Thief Lord) • Tom Courtenay (Nicholas Nickleby) • Ian McShane (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising) • Sam Elliott (Ghost Rider) • Simon McBurney (The Last King of Scotland) • Kristin Scott Thomas (Keeping Mum) • Kathy Bates (Fred Claus)

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Click to see photos from the Premiere of The Golden Compass
Click to read the spoiler points for The Golden Compass

Amidst a storm of controversy stirred up by those who view award-winning author Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, the first book of which was called The Northern Lights and changed to The Golden Compass to be decidedly anti-Christian, the film should open to typical epic numbers in December fueled inadvertently by the controversy and by the traditional success of such during the family Holiday film season. Despite the controversy, and there have been many defensive statements released suggesting the religious overtones from the book have been toned down in the film, the story resembles, not surprisingly, so many other timeless epic stories with children as the heroes, only this time with a young girl in charge. Her name is Lyra Belacqua, and she's portrayed forcibly and convincingly by young Dakota Blue Richards. One can see shades of a dynamic and potent actress in the young girl as her character carries the fate of her world on her shoulders, so does the actress carry the weight of the picture. Both take some warming up to. She's a tad prickly at first, but as the story progresses, the character matures and the girl settles into the role.

After a quick overview by the narrator introducing us to this world in a parallel universe where the souls of people manifest themselves outside the body in the form of archetypal, talking animals called dœmons; the world is ruled by the Magisterium; and there's a secret connecting element between all living things known as dust, the story begins dramatically with an attempted poisoning of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) the uncle of the heroine, Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards). She and her dœmon, Pantalaimon (voiced by Freddie Highmore) or Pan for short, witness an agent from the Magisterium named Fra Pavel (Simon McBurney) add an envelope of powder to a bottle of distillate the Lord will be drinking shortly. Bursting forth from the wardrobe they've entered to hide, Lyra and Pan warn and shatter Lord Asriel's glass just in the nick of time effectively save his life. The greeting is followed by an important meeting with the Jordan College administration committee whereby Lord Asriel illustrates an accounting of a man near the northern pole receiving a swirl of dust from the stars into his body. He seeks funding to find the location and see if, in fact, there might be some way to transport things between the universes. The mention of dust, for one thing, is mentioned as heresy. To find ways to jump between universes to see the source of the dust, as is Lord Asriel's real goal, quite another.

"…excellent effects and non-stop, fantasy-driven, epic adventure..."
The college approves the funding of the expedition, so Asriel plans to leave immediately. Lyra will stay behind at the college to continue her studies. She's not that happy about this; however, shortly after his departure, one of the college elders gives her a mysterious object called an alethiometer or golden compass that used to belong to her uncle indicating that it was assembled by a great inventor to always point to the truth. In time, he believes she will master reading it, an art lost long ago when the devices were seized and outlawed by the Magisterium. Nearly at the same time, children from all over have been disappearing at the hand of mysterious forces called the Gobblers, and a strange woman names Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) pays an interest in Lyra eventually convincing her to become her apprentice and join her on a journey to the northern lands of the ice bears. This agreement, while affording Lyra with the opportunities to enjoy a wonderful life of parties and dinners at Mrs. Coulter's side, is suddenly not turning out to be all the fun nor does it seem to be that they'll be leaving for the journey north any time soon. After they catch Mrs. Coulter's dœmon searching for the Alethiometer in her room, Pan begins to doubt Mrs. Coulter's motives. Indeed, Lyra's and Pan's suspicions about Mrs. Coulter's true motives lead to a horrific discovery in her study causing Lyra to realize that the only course of action was escape. (see spoilers for rest of the harrowing tale)

While deviating substantially from the plot of the first book, probably to the disgruntlement of those who have read it, the story is nonetheless action packed with several exciting battles, harrowing escapes, and shocking discoveries. Fans of Daniel Craig will be doubly disappointed as his total screen time barely exceeds five minutes. Truly, the film is about Lyra and her adventure.

"…leaves you wanting more…The Golden Compass scores."
Thus, the bulk of the time is devoted to here escapades as she learns to use the golden compass to seek out the truth. The world has been fantastically rendered with its airships and neo-classical architecture. Likewise, the animators have done outstanding jobs across the board with the dœmon animals that populate every corner of the screen. In general, the special effects are so good, they are largely unnoticeable and certainly do not overshadow the human elements of the film. Nicole Kidman is deliciously wicked as Mrs. Coulter, a role that's been described as being for her for more than ten years by the author of the books himself. She's absolutely at her best when she's portraying a woman of exquisite refinement harboring a dark secret rooted in the hope of a purer future. Sam Elliot pops up as aeronaut Lee Scoresby (pilot of an airship) who provides Lyra with both necessary transportation and a suggested ally in the form of an ice bear named Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Sir Ian McKellen). From the kids to the CGI animals the acting in the film is realistic and believable. The story pulls you in and carries you along like any good epic part 1 will do. You'll leave definitely craving part 2, though maybe not for a repeat of the closing credit song which seems to repeat "Lyra" a thousand times. The rest of the musical score by Alexandre Desplat was very much in keeping with helping to set the proper mood.

Finally, does the film stir up anti-Christian or anti-Catholic sentiments as promised by the groups encouraging boycotts of a film they hadn't even seen, absolutely not. Nothing, in fact, about the Chris Weitz written and directed film caused any negative associations toward anything other than organizations that threaten to prevent free thought or free speech. There are references to the idea that the Magisterium is working to control not only this universe but all universes and prevent investigations into the implications of dust. So, unless, these too are recent edicts of the Pope, probably the Catholic Church, as actor Daniel Craig said, "…will survive this film." The important thing the film should do, as did the book which was noted in 2007 by judges of the Carnegie Medal as one of the ten most important novels for children in the past 70 years, is induce conversation and discussion. Is attempting to suppress or boycott a work just making it all the more tempting to those who might otherwise ignore it? And why ignore this work? Even if it could be seen in the most extreme sense of analogy as being anti-religious, why not use the ideas in it to explore rather than squelching it altogether? The film as part one of a trilogy will probably work better than it does as a stand-alone as it leaves too much up in the air. A good outcome of a good part one, though, is to leave you wanting more; and, at this, The Golden Compass scores.

Note: the PG-13 film may be too scare in parts for young children.

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Still Photo Gallery for The Golden Compass (2007)

(all images used with permission for press reproduction)

Daniel Craig... Lord Asriel

Dakota Blue Richards... Lyra Belacqua

Nicole Kidman... Marisa Coulter

Marisa Coulter and Lyra Belacqua

Lyra Belacqua Learns the Compass

Lyra Belacqua walks on the campus of Jordan College with her Uncle

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Cast Members
Nicole KidmanDaniel CraigDakota Blue Richards
Ben WalkerFreddie HighmoreIan McKellen
Eva GreenJim CarterTom Courtenay
Ian McShaneKathy BatesSimon McBurney
Chris Weitz
Chris Weitz
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Review-lite The Golden Compass (2007) [max of 150 words]
Written and directed by Chris Weitz from award-winning author Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass scores in drawing one in to the mythology of the story set up by the narrator who reveals a world in a parallel universe where the souls of people manifest themselves outside the body in the form of archetypal, talking animals called dœmons; the world is ruled by the Magisterium; and there's a secret connecting element between all living things known as dust. The story begins dramatically with the heroine, Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) saving her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) from being poisoned. Without sticking entirely to the plot of the first book, the first film, featuring Nicole Kidman as the wicked Mrs. Coulter, provides excellent effects and non-stop, fantasy-driven, epic adventure that may be too scary for young children.

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