In a parallel universe where witches rule the skies and armoured bears are the bravest warriors, young Lyra Belacqua journeys from her home among the scholars at Oxford to the far North to save her best friend. Based on th... more »e first book in the Carnegie Medal-winning series, His Dark Materials.« less
"The special effects and the cinematography of "The Golden Compass" are wonderful, but it's the subtext that really shines through, making for one of the most unique, fascinating, and entertaining fantasy films of recent memory. Just as it is in the film, the plot of Philip Pullman's original novel suggested that free will was kept under strict control. The film brings this idea to the surface and allows the audience to analyze it; in a parallel universe--in which a person's soul is separate and physically represented by an animal--a ruthless organization called the Magisterium tries to enforce rules against free will. Anyone who challenges its authority will be condemned as a heretic. Because they wanted to ensure total compliance, the Magisterium sought to destroy every last alethiometer, or golden compass--a magical, watch-like mechanism that literally tells the truth by pointing at strange symbols.
The one alethiometer that survived is now in the possession of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), a college professor who defies the Magisterium by confirming the existence of dust. I'm not referring to the allergy-inducing particles that settle on ordinary surfaces; I'm referring to the magical substance that's somehow related to a rift between their universe and ours. Because this has put him at odds with the Magisterium, he gives the alethiometer to his orphaned niece, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a young girl raised by the professors at a university. Lyra, who absolutely hates being called a lady, is clever, bold, and incredibly headstrong, with an adventurous spirit that occasionally gets her into trouble. Her spirit--or daemon, as referred to by the characters--is Pan (voiced by Freddie Highmore), who hasn't quite decided which animal form to take. He spends most of his time as a ferret, but he also turns into a cat, a bird, and a mouse.
When Lyra hears that her uncle is traveling to the snowy north to find the dust and open this cross-dimensional rift, she wishes to join him. Asriel refuses to let her, and he warns her against speaking of dust to anyone. Here enters Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), the wicked, controlling head of the Magisterium; she quickly learns that the alethiometer is in Lyra's possession and vows to reclaim it by tricking Lyra onto her good side. Mrs. Coulter's true nature is soon revealed, and upon escaping, Lyra is put under the protection of the Gyptians, a band of rebels who were once aided by Lord Asriel. As they journey north with Lyra, she also meets: Serafina (Eva Green), an elegant, almost ethereal witch; Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott), a grizzled pilot who speaks like a Texan from the Old West; and Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen), a disgraced polar bear who was once a great warrior among an entire clan of polar bears. To rid himself of his shame, he decides to reclaim his stolen armor and protect Lyra at whatever cost.
This is pretty much the foundation for the adventure that follows, an adventure so big that it isn't over even when the movie ends. But in the grand scheme of things, the adventure is fairly superficial and only part of what makes it so wonderful; "The Golden Compass" is just as thought provoking as it is enjoyable, filled to the brim with intelligent, meaningful undertones. This isn't to say that the film exists entirely as one big commentary--a good portion of it functions at a level of pure entertainment, from the convincing special effects to the stunning set designs to the fantastic mechanical creations. The story is not one of the future, the past, or even the present; its unique setting has essentially made any sense of time meaningless. And let's not forget a number of lighthearted moments between Lyra and her best friend, Roger (Ben Walker), both of whom are more like bonded siblings.
But there is a dark side to this story. For one thing, the Magisterium is involved in a sinister plot to kidnap children and sever the connections between them and their daemons. The sooner they lose their spirits (pun definitely intended), the quicker they can be controlled. There's also a general sense of foreboding that runs through the entire film, as if to say that certain things are not as simple as they may first appear. Consider the fact that a person's physical pain is also felt by his or her daemon, and vice versa: What exactly will happen if one of them dies? Can one exist without the other? And how exactly are daemons a threat to free will?
The fact that I'm asking these questions is a good thing, because it proves that "The Golden Compass" is a stimulating film. Rarely is a fantasy story allowed to transcend the limiting clichés of princesses, castles, dragons, swords, and predictable Hero's Journeys. Here's a film that actually brings something new to the genre, something fresh, exciting, daring, and determined. This is not a mind-numbing rehash; it's a thoroughly original experience, highlighted by delightful performances, a solid structure, and a well-rounded social commentary. I suppose I should make a note about the Catholic Church's poor reception of this film, but why bother? Religion--or lack thereof--has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with being engaging, smart, and imaginative."
A Fantasy with a Strong Cast of Humans and Animated Animals!
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 05/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not being one who seeks out the seemingly endless line of Harry Potter/Narnia/Lord of the Rings tropes (a little computer generated monster realm goes a long way), THE GOLDEN COMPASS came somewhat as a pleasant surprise. Yes, this is still a fantasy film, but the emphasis is more on stylish creation of various animals (in the forms of 'daemons' that accompany children as their souls, morphing into various animal life at will) than tiresome explosions and flying beasties.
Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is clearly the star of this adventure that explores the possibility of other, parallel worlds whose interaction with the world as we know it is controlled by various groups of good guys and bad guys, all seeking the source of secrecy contained in a Golden Compass that can only be read by a single girl - Lyra, a poor child living in the presence of scholars. Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) places the Golden Compass in Lyra's knowing hands and heads off to the far North to investigate the element that binds all life together - Dust. The tale is set in motion by the enigmatic Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) who gains Lyra's confidence and offers to take her to the great North. All manner of adventures occur on the journey - friends of Lyra's are threatened to be separated from their various daemons in the cruel hands of the bad guys, Lyra's encounter with a witch Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green), her assistance from a friendly astronaut (Sam Elliott) and an armored bear - and with all fantasies, good prevails - or does it? Tune in for the very obvious next installment.
The pleasures are many, not the least of which are the voices and changing forms of the little animal daemons. The cast is excellent and the whole movie sails with yet another beautiful musical score by Alexandre Desplat. It is a nice diversion, but you have to love fantasy. Grady Harp, May 08"
Am I the only one with a golden compass
Vicente Rodriguez Jr. | phoenix | 04/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can see through all of the negativity and find a nugget of truth. Everyone thinks this movie was bad and boring, well, I have a question for you. What movie were you watching? When I saw this movie it captivated me and filled me with wonder. I haven't felt this way about of movie in some odd years. I mean, come on! Say this with me, all right? Polar bear battle that alone made me want to watch this, I really cannot believe all the bad reviews, there not even justified. You people are uninspired and so used to crappy movies that you misrepresent yourself. I have seen my fair share of crappy movies but this is a good movie and I can't wait for the next one. The story is an epic one and I am in it to the very end. The cast amazing starting with Mr 007 himself Daniel Craig and the vivacious Nicole Kidman. It was an amazing ride and I fell in love with the characters and felt a real connection. It was like Harry Potter with the Lord of the rings and Narnia all rolled into one massive new trilogy. It was faced paced, heart wrenching, and heartwarming tale of friendship and loyalty. The ending was not, I repeat not a cliff hanger, so shut up about it. It was a very solid ending and climax mixed in with shocking plot twist that honestly I didn't see coming. So please don't listen to any negative reviews and shy away from this passionate film adaptation of His Dark Materials. See it yourself and then decide. I really appreciate all the positive feed back from readers of my reviews. Thanks I appreciate it! Look for other reviews and check them out."
"Lady, Lightning Bolt, Baby ~ Nothing But Us And The Child"
Brian E. Erland | Brea, CA - USA | 05/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Not knowing anything about `The Golden Compass' nor the book `Northern Lights' by Philip Pullman upon which this film is based, I must say I was not only pleasantly surprised, but amazed by what I saw and heard on my initial viewing. The visuals are astounding and the storyline is original, highly controversial (at least in the mind of some religious groups) and abnormally complex.
Maybe even more amazing to me than how good this film is, was the high volume of criticism and low ratings it has compiled from Amazon reviewers. I can discern only three possible reasons for this unlikely occurrence;
1- It's to be expected if the film diverges from the book, something purist cannot tolerant. (Again, not having read the book in question I cannot comment on its faithfulness to the source material).
2- It might be a case of not appreciating the complexity of the story. You can't just jump into this film and immediately know what's going on. You have to exert a little effort and brain power to work your way into this alternate universe before settling down for the ride.
3- However I'm certain that the biggest body of complaints come from Christian factions that don't like their belief system challenged in any form. The portrayal of an evil ruling body known as the Magisterium may hit a little too close to home for some Catholics and those within the Protestant camp will most certainly be bothered by seeing every human accompanied by what appears to be an animal familiar referred to as a daemon* (no it's not a demon, think of the Hellenistic concept of the daemonic).
*These animals are part of the individual. In this imaginary world the soul is separated from the body and exists as a companion creature that accompanies the individual throughout life.
If that wasn't enough to cause some of the faithful to begin beating their war drums and rattling their sabres it doesn't help to see a heroine who's furry companion is named Pan (short for Pantalaimon), an alluring Queen of the Witches with the angelic sounding name Serafina (i.e.: Seraphim) who fights with the "good guys", and the heroine's courageous Uncle, Lord Asriel who's name is all too similar to that of the fallen angel Azriel, long associated with the Devil.
These religious/mythological cross-references don't stop here. I noticed a couple borrowed from Norse mythology as well. There's Lorek Byrnison ( possibly referring to Loki, the trickster God) and the immense warrior, polar bear Ragnar Sturlusson could be a subtle reference to Ragnarok, the Nordic version of the Apocalypse.
Of course there's always the possibility that someone simply doesn't like the film for reasons I've yet to comprehend, but I can't imagine how anyone wouldn't enjoy such an imaginative, allegorical, fantasy adventure. In case you haven't figured it out by now, I loved it!"
Visually Stunning But Lacks a Compelling Story
Tsuyoshi | Kyoto, Japan | 05/03/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
""The Golden Compass" has everything that would make a great fantasy film - great cast including Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and a fresh talent Dakota Blue Richards, plus great visual effects for which the film went on to win the Oscar. But one sad thing is the film itself doesn't have magic. It lacks a compelling story that would make its audiences willing to share the adventures with the heroine.
The film follows the story of the strong-minded young girl Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) living among Oxford scholars. While her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) travels to find out the truths of magical particles "Dust," Lyra finds herself in the middle of the fierce struggle involving beautiful and commanding Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman). And young Lyra is yet to know that the results of the battles may determine the fate of her world and ours too.
Set in the parallel universe where everyone has his/her own "daemons," "The Golden Compass" centers on Lyra and her long journey to the North. The film has a variety of supporting characters including cowboy aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Sam Shepherd) and great armoured polar bear Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen). Unfortunately, however, we have little time to know these characters. Gorgeous Eva Green appears as green-eyed witch Serafina Pekkala, but she has little to do in the story. And if you blink your eyes, you may miss Christopher Lee.
Sometimes "The Golden Compass" seems only providing the backgrounds for its subsequent films and has forgotten to tell its own story. Lyra remains attractive, and so is Mrs. Coulter, thanks to the superb performances from Richards and Kidman, but there is no character development. The concept of "daemons" is not fully developed and though the idea of "Alethiometer" or the Golden Compass is intriguing, the process of Lyra's decoding it could have been made more so.
"The Golden Compass" is part of the trilogy written by Philip Pullman. I hear many complaints from the original book's fans who claim the book is much better. Not having read the book, I cannot say anything about it, but maybe director Chris Weitz is trying to please everyone. If so, he shouldn't. Perhaps he should have brought in his own vision and interpretation of Lyra and her journey. "The Golden Compass" is not a bad film at all. It is slick and entertaining with several impressive battle scenes, but its unique world and story deserve something more than just entertainment."