“The Golden Compass” is an adaptation of the first book in the beloved but controversial fantasy series by Phillip Pullman. The story opens with Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) an orphan girl who lives in an alternate world that is similar to earth, but where people’s souls exist outside of their bodies in animal form. The people are ruled by a shadowy and oppressive council known as the Magisterium, which is doing it’s best to keep everyone from getting information about what is called “Dust.” Lyra’s Uncle Asriel (Daniel Craig) has been researching Dust, and he has seen to it that Lyra is given safe shelter at Jordan College. But when the visiting Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) arrives, she asks Lyra to accompany her on a trip to the North to meet the Panserbjorne, a race of armored bears. Before Lyra leaves, the Headmaster gives her a golden compass, a device which only she can read, and from which she can intuit the truth. Lyra leaves with Mrs. Coulter, but when she learns that her friends have been kidnapped by “Gobblers,” she heads out to find them, and soon joins forces with the nomadic Gyptians, some witches, and an armored bear called Iorek Byrnison (voice by Ian McKellen). Lyra finds her friends, and so discovers the evil plans the Magisterium has cooked up for the world’s children. By the film’s end, she has vowed to track down her Uncle Asriel, and to discover the true power of Dust. Hollywood had a tricky time of taming this tale, as Pullman’s books portray religion – the Catholic Church in particular – in a less than flattering light. The film version carefully steers clear of these themes, and instead puts its enormous budget into creating visually stunning effects. While fans of the books may find fault with this streamlined version, children are sure to revel in the many talking animals and whimsical airships.
I find it amazing that “The Golden Compass” only recieved a 41% rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Not only did my kids love it–but I found it to be the best movie I’ve seen for kids in quite some time. The closest thing to compare this movie to would be “The Chronicles of Narnia.” It’s not as good as Narnia–but its not that far from being as interesting and fun. There are numerous interesting characters and theCGI is brilliant, in particular the armored bear named Iorek.
Lyra, played well by Dakota Blue Richards, takes one heck of a magical trip. One of the more interesting aspects are how each child has their own daemon, a creature that holds their human companions soul. Daniel Craig, though often absent, provides a very strong character role as Lord Asriel. The most surprising is how brilliantly Nicole Kidman plays the role of the evil Mrs. Coulter. There are also some very good character actors to fill in the holes–like Sam Elliott and Ian McKellen, who lends his voice to the armored bear. McKellen gives this CGI bear lots of soul. So much so that Iorek steals ever scene.
* Commentary with Writer/Director Chris Weitz – An interesting discussion about the differences made in the movie compared to the film.
* Origins: The Novel, The Adaptation, and Oxford
* Behind the Scenes: Finding Lyra, Costumes, Music, Production Design, The Launch – A great look into the development of the movies visual effects.
* Lyra’s World: Armored Bears, The Alethiometer and Daemons
* Image galleries
“The Golden Compass” may not impress the critics and might not be every parent’s cup-of-tea but kids love it. There hasn’t been a week that has gone by where my kids wouldn’t inquire when “The Golden Compass” would be out on DVD. It was good to finally surprise them with it and in just 4 days they watched it half-a-dozen times.