I must admit that fantasies like The Golden Compass are right up my alley. I’ve never been one for tales of knights and dragons, but give me a good magical fantasy, especially British based, and you have me. There’s something about hidden worlds of magic that just get me. I loved both Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. However, unlike those two stories, I did not read the source material to The Golden Compass before watching the movie, and thus my mind was a blank slate, freed of expectations.
Perhaps it is due to that blank slate and lack of expectations that I found this movie to be better and far more enjoyable than any from Harry Potter or Narnia. The story was fresh, the twists and turns unexpected, the world unexplored and the characters like new friends. Or perhaps the movie really is of such great quality.
In the world of The Golden Compass the souls of people are not inside them, but instead manifest themselves as dæmons in the form of companion animals. Oh, and they talk! These dæmons have separate personalities and even names from their persons, but the bond between the two is strong and the pain that is inflicted upon a dæmon is felt by that person and vice versa. This relationship apparently has something to do with dust. Not any old dust mind you, but a special dust that ties together the many parallel universes, including our own. It is this dust that the bad guys, the Magisterium, hope to use to extend their control over all worlds.
The hero in this tale is young Lyra Belacqua, played perfect by Dakota Blue Richards. I cannot emphasize this enough, but Richards was an amazing find to portray Lyra. It is always tricky when casting children. Even solid choices, like those in the Harry Potter movies are far from perfect at first and take a couple of movies to develop as actors. Not Dakota Richards, she is Lyra from the first scene, she owns the role. Considering this story is Lyra’s story, her casting would make or break the movie. Dakota Richards makes this movie.
Another critical role cast wonderfully was Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter. The rumors say that Nicole Kidman initially rejected this role having no interest in playing the antagonist, but reconsidered after Philip Pullman, the author of the original novels, wrote to her requesting a change of heart. Kidman portrays perfectly the subtle villain required to initially tempt Lyra with tales of adventure of independence in the northern regions.
Daniel Craig and Eva Green, both of Casino Royale fame, play Lord Asriel and witch queen Serafina Pekkala respectively. Neither role is as large as the trailers would have you believe, but both perform their parts exceedingly well.
Sam Elliot with his southern drawl seems a bit out of place in this world of proper British accents, and yet he works as a Texan “aeronaut” teemed with the armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison, voiced by Ian McKellen.
Plenty of other notable character actors have bit parts as well, ranging from Christopher Lee as an evil High Councilor to Kathy Bates as the voice of Sam Elliot’s dæmon.
I feel that I don’t even have to mention the special effects, as any blockbuster of this size is guaranteed to spare no expense on its visuals. Particularly well done are the dæmons for the main characters fitting seamlessly into the production.
Recently there has been some hubbub over anti-religious themes and messages contained within this story. I cannot speak for the novels as I have yet to read them, but in the movie I did not see even a hint of such a thing. However, I would be careful taking small children to this movie as there is a bit of violence, think Narnia’s final battle level, though there is a scene of a bear ripping the jaw right off another bear.
The Golden Compass is clearly meant to serve as the opening chapters of a greater tale. The movie does not end like a Harry Potter or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where you know there will be another movie, but it is complete on its own. Instead this story ends like The Fellowship of the Ring or The Empire Strikes Back, with the tale unfinished and more is sure to come.
New Line Cinema has stated that production of the remaining two movies in the trilogy are dependent on the box office of the current movie. Here’s to hoping that the studio is happy with their returns and immediately commence filming of the next chapters.
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence.
- Opens December 7th, 2007
- The Golden Compass on IMDB