The Golden Compass is not by any means on the level of the Lord of the Rings, or the Chronicles of Narnia. It is certainly aimed at a younger audience, and in saying this I do not want to discourage or dissuade a viewer from going to the film with a child or even a young teenager. However, for the adult movie goer, this film ultimately falls flat. I had no previous knowledge of the story or it’s basis. I was excited after seeing the preview. In the Lords of rings, Gandalf is really old and the information about it should be available with the person. The audience will receive complete entertainment and enjoyment in the lord of rings.
It is based on the book Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, the first in a trilogy.
This is the story of Lyra Belacqua, a girl attending Jordan College in England. Lyra lives in a world that is very different from yours and mine. This is a world of talking polar bears, of Hindenbergesque transport, and most importantly of animal manifestations of a person’s soul. These representations are called Dæmons, and they share in the experiences of their person. This can and does include pain and ultimately death, depending on your uncertain future. The story starts out innocently enough, with young vagabond like children playing in the street and Lyra betting one of her friends that she can get a special item out of a special room. Inside this room, treachery already begins to take hold as there are obvious factions at sword’s length from each other. It is here where we meet Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), Lyra’s uncle, as well as various other members of the college. Lord Asriel shows a picture of a very uncouth substance called Dust. He plans to go to the great north in search of this Dust.
Lyra wants to go, but he refuses. Before long, she is courted by Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) a woman of great power. There is something not quite right about Coulter. People look at her with admiration and fear. She is played very specific, and very cold, yet smooth by Kidman, who does provide a decent performance. Lyra ends up going away with Mrs. Coulter. But before she leaves, she is given the alethiometer (the golden compass). It is a device that can be used to pierce through to the truth in any circumstance if the user understands it’s power.
We are already knowing that Lyra is a special girl, that someone has plans for her, and that others probably do as well but their motives are certainly not as good.
We also have a plot about missing children that ties into everything, especially when some of Lyra’s friends go missing. She is a resourceful girl, and ends up meeting up with a motley crew of gypsy like people, as well as an outcast bear, (voiced by Ian McKellen) and Virgil Earp, er a nomadic piot (Sam Elliott playing virtually the same character in tombstone except… well with a bunny.)
This party of people begins a trek north as well, determined to find the missing children and to meet up with Lord Asriel.
The story continues on, moving from scene to scene, but with no real development. Things just scratch the surface with almost all the characters. things just happen. Characters become intertwined on the drop of a dime. It all ends up being a CGI spectacle that never really quite explains anything.
It also ends very very abruptly. Having never known anything about the book/franchise till after seeing the movie, it’s clear here that the producers are hoping for a LOTR type franchise. However, the story just doesn’t have that depth to it. Everything seems to be written into the plot with a wink wink, isn’t this clever type of attitude.There are many many scenes which look almost stolen from other movies (conscious viewers will note in particular the scene with McKellen’s polar bear… all I could think about was YOU SHALL NOT PASS!) I saw parallels to many movies, scenes that looked almost lifted, and after awhile I was waiting for Danny Glover, Mel Gibson, Jackie Chan, and Chris Tucker to all come out and start Lethal Rush Hour 5.
Having said all this, a child will absolutely love the movie if this genre is their cup of tea. Talking animals, chases, fighting, it’s all here. In saying this however, be forewarned there is a lot of child in peril stuff going on, kidnapping,as well as violence and death, both shown and implied. There is cruelty to animals (the souls), and to children. There is one particular scene which could be considered almost graphic for this film. There is the whole debate about the denouncing of Catholicism which was specifically toned down.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Children who aren’t ridiculously sensitive, or who are nuts for Harry Potter should love it. The acting is not bad, the CGI is top notch, etc. Just don’t go without a child and expect to be watching the next Lord of the Rings masterpiece.