DISCLAIMER – Although I found the movie very entertaining, what was REALLY great about it was how it destroyed my faith in organized religion. I don’t know if that’s what the producers were shooting for when they made it, but there you are.
Drunk off the sweet success of franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, film studios have been snatching up the rights to popular children’s/fantasy books in pursuit of their own god, the almighty dollar (not to be confused with the one and true God, whom the filmmakers obviously hate). I think The Golden Compass succeeds where a lot of these other movies have failed. The themes the story explores are a lot more adult, although (from what I’ve read) a little simplified for the movie version. These are books I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, so I really can’t comment on what they’ve changed and how much they’ve changed it
The movie is surprisingly short (about an hour and forty-five minutes) for a story like this, and as usual there are many different players, all pursuing their own agendas. The film’s protagonist, Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), is an orphan living at Jordan College in a parallel world. Lyra and everyone else in the world are accompanied by a daemon, the physical manifestation of their soul in animal form. Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), is a scholar at Jordan who is planning an expedition to the north to study a substance called Dust, which he believes can bridge the gap between parallel worlds. His expedition is being opposed by the Magisterium (read the Catholic Church), who goes so far as to try poisoning him to prevent it. Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) represents a faction of the Magisterium that’s been kidnapping children and performing experiments, splitting children from their daemons in an atempt to keep them from ever knowing sin. Mrs. Coulter is planning her own expedition to the North, and takes on Lyra as her assistant. This works out nicely, because Lyra’s friend Roger has just been kidnapped and taken to the Magisterium’s super-secret base — you guessed it — in the north. If all of this sounds confusing, it is. With stories like these, there’s always a ton of backstory that needs explaining, and here, Compass‘ cup runneth over (to borrow a phrase from the Bible, which after seeing the movie, I recognize as one giant lie).
On their way, Lyra finds out that Mrs. Coulter isn’t exactly on the up and up and sets off on her own. Along the way, she meets up with witches, aeronauts, Gyptians, and an armor-plated polar bear (who really shines in a scene that’ll be sure to send your kids home crying). The movie ends kind of unexpectedly, although you’ll see how the next two films are being set up. I don’t think we’re going to be seeing any movies in the near future that live up to The Lord of the Rings, but The Golden Compass is one of the better ones that’s trying to. As said, the themes are a little more adult, and the story and its characters are really interesting. Even though I haven’t yet read the books, I enjoyed watching it all unfold onscreen. Even though the movie has a lot going for it, it does suffer from a few shortcomings. There IS a lot of backstory here, so a lot of time is spent explaining it. Also, there’s a lot of book condensed into not a lot of movie. Every obstacle the characters face is resolved without a lot of effort. So hopefully we’ll see an extended DVD version eventually. That makes up for it a little, but still, you go in expecting more. Kids will love it. Adults, give it a 50/50 chance.
From what I’ve heard, New Line has a lot riding on the success of this movie. “A lot” being the future of New Line studios itself. I don’t think there’s much reason to worry though. A movie like this seems guaranteed to do good business, especially with the Holidays coming up. The movie’s shorter run-time allows for more showings in a day, and there will be a lot of kids who want to see this. I give it three and a half out of five stars. It would have gotten more, but it DID turn me into an atheist, which I’m not really sure is a good thing or a bad thing. I’m waiting for the next movie to tell me which. B-