The Golden Compass leads the way for an enchanting new franchise
Fantasy flicks are all the rage these days, what with the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings serials warming the hearts of just about everyone, young and old. When The Chronicles of Narnia came out a few years ago, memories of my youth, reading those books with a passion, compelled me to the theater. Disappointment is the best word to describe my mood afterward.
So, I was none too optimistic for The Golden Compass, yet another sure-to-be franchise based on a series of novels (written by Philip Pullman, and hugely popular in the UK). Less than halfway through, I found myself pleasantly surprised, having been sucked into the fantastical world filled with witches and daemons and talking, fighting Arctic bears.
The story follows the journey of young Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), an orphan raised at a university in a land where every human is accompanied by his or her soul, in the form of an animal, or so-called daemon. Her uncle is Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), a scholar whose findings threaten the power of the government, known as the Magisterium, over people’s free will.
Lord Asriel voyages to the north to study Dust, a strange substance not to be spoken of. He leaves behind, for Lyra, the very last Alethiometer, or Golden Compass, which has the power to reveal the truth. It’s a good thing, because she needs it when she, too, is taken up north, by the playfully mysterious Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman).
All the while, children from Lyra’s town are going missing, and she takes it upon herself, with some help, to find them. Along the way, she enlists the aid of pilot Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott, complete with trademark ‘stache and twang), and an armored bear (voiced by Ian McKellan).
Like most good fantasies, The Golden Compass is complicated in that the world it inhabits is so foreign to our own. It’s this complexity—and the broader themes of Big Brother, mind control and freedom—that will keep adults intrigued. The magical world and captivating heroine, Lyra, along with her cute daemon, Pan, will entertain the children. Teens will teeter somewhere in between. And, we can be assured, there’s more where this one came from.
There’s been quite a stir about the story being anti-Christian. Going into the movie knowing nothing of said stir, I came out with no such notion. Apparently Pullman’s books portray the Magisterium as organized religion, whereas in the film version, the Magisterium represents an oppressive government.