The Golden Compass (PG)



Family (2007)
113mins US/UK

Starring: Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green
Director: Chris Weitz
Writer(s): Chris Weitz
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

A girl called Lyra Belacqua has been entrusted into the care of the scholars at Jordan College, Oxford, while her uncle, Lord Asriel, attempts to unravel the mysteries of a wondrous substance called 'Dust'. Lyra and her shape-shifting daemon Pantalaimon soon embark on their own fantastical quest when Mrs Coulter asks Lyra to become her assistant, leading the little girl to forge a remarkable friendship with an armoured bear called Iorek Byrnison, aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the beautiful witch Serafina Pekala.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Golden Compass

After months of rumour and counter-rumour about a spiralling budget (USD150million-USD200million) and drastic changes to the screenplay, not to mention calls for a boycott of the film by the Catholic League, The Golden Compass is finally here...

The Golden Compass. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham. Film released by: Entertainment Films.With little in the way of competition at the box office before Christmas, Chris Weitz's visually stunning adaptation of Northern Lights by Philip Pullman - the first part of the His Dark Materials saga - should prove irresistible to family audiences. Writer-director Weitz has performed an impressive vanishing act with great swathes of Pullman's text without sacrificing the heart and soul of the book. That said, he has excised too much narrative from the opening half hour, introducing principal characters at a breathless pace, presumably because he is eager to reach the armoured bears of Svalbard as quickly as possibly. Emotional bonds between sparky, resourceful heroine Lyra and her childhood pals Roger and Billy are gossamer thin, and the political tensions that divide the kindly scholars from the dogmatic Magisterium are sketched too broadly.

Thirteen-year-old Dakota Blue Richards from Brighton was plucked from obscurity to play the pivotal role of Lyra and she is terrific, more than holding her own against Nicole Kidman in scene-stealing form and a miasma of jaw-dropping computer special effects - literally jaw-dropping for one character in a scene that pushes the boundaries for PG classification. All of the technical heft is necessary to fully realize Pullman's fantastical parallel universe, in which humans are bound to a reflection of their soul called a daemon, which takes the form of an animal.

The Golden Compass. Film released by: Entertainment Films.During childhood, these daemons continually change species, only settling once the human reaches adulthood. For young Lyra Belacqua, who has been entrusted into the care of the scholars at Jordan College, Oxford, by her globe trotting uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), that daemon is the shape-shifting Pantalaimon (voiced by Freddie Highmore). Together, Lyra and Pan get into various scrapes with their friends Roger (Ben Walker) and Billy Costa (Charlie Rowe), and they spy on the scholars, overhearing a confidential report by Lord Asriel on a wondrous substance called Dust. "Dust is none of your business," warns her uncle, "Now try and behave."

However, the girl and her daemon soon find themselves embroiled in mystery when the enigmatic Mrs Coulter (Nicole Kidman) spirits Lyra away from Oxford to become her assistant. Before they leave, the Master of the College (Jack Shepherd) entrusts Lyra with an alethiometer, a so-called golden compass. "What's it for?" gasps Lyra. "It tells the truth," replies the Master. "It lets you glimpse things as they are." He instructs Lyra to keep the alethiometer secret from everyone, especially Mrs Coulter and her golden monkey daemon.

Dakota Blue Richards and Nicole Kidman in The Golden Compass. Photograph by Laurie Sparham/New Line Cinema. Film released by: Entertainment Films.Leaving Jordan in a giant airship, Lyra embarks on a grand adventure that takes her to Svalbard and on to the experimentation facility at Bolvangar, where Roger and Billy are being held hostage. En route, she forges remarkable friendships with an armoured bear called Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen), aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott) and the beautiful witch Serafina Pekala (Eva Green). "There is a prophecy about that child, Mr Scoresby," reveals Serafina. "She is to decide the war that is to come."

The Golden Compass is an entertaining introduction to Pullman's writing, festooned with dazzling action set pieces including a fight between two bears and a climactic battle on land and air that is almost too hectic. Visually, Weitz's film is a triumph, filling the screen with a menagerie of daemons against a backdrop of impressive production design (Denis Gassner) and costumes (Ruth Myers).

Dakota Blue Richards and Daniel Craig in The Golden Compass. Film released by: Entertainment Films.Richards invests her young adventurer with plenty of spirit as she battles the slippery Mrs Coulter, portrayed with venom by Kidman. Supporting performances jostle for our attention but the computer generated bears invariably roar loudest, proudly suited for battle because as Iorek tells Lyra: "War is the sea I swim in and the air I breathe. Without it, I am nothing." Weitz jettisons the final three chapters from The Golden Compass (they will open The Subtle Knife instead) to conclude this first leg of the journey on an upbeat, life-affirming note. A calm before the storm.

- Kim Hu


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