Last night I watched the 2007 movie The Golden Compass and thought I would share my review of it I wrote for the internet movie database.
The underlying theme of both the Philip Pullman book which inspired this adaptation and the Chris Weitz screenplay itself, have come under fire from religious groups for having an atheist humanist agenda. Keen to understand this argument better I watched with an open mind and, to my delight, discovered within the opening lines of the film that, unlike so many CGI for the sake of it fantasy flicks, The Golden Compass is in fact a highly intelligent take on what is known in physics and cosmology as the anthropic principal.
Simply put, Pullman weaves the story of a gifted child, Lyra, around the mathematical probabilities which arise when, in an infinite universe within and without of our own dimension, a parallel Earth-like world to our own might also contain both that which is familiar and that which is alien to ourselves, alongside a creepy mirror image of our society and how it is shaped by the dogmatic superstitions of darker times in human history.
Given the occasionally controversial and complex nature of this debate, the biggest surprise from a film-making point of view is that there is no attempt to ease the audience over what can occasionally feel like a whole chapter from the original text has been summarised into a single line of dialogue, by simply using a voice-over of the events being described. This would have perhaps also better served the less familiar in the audience with the philosophical dichotomies between deism and theism as set against critical thinking and secularism.
Lyra Belacqua, excellently played by Dakota Blue Richards, is every child who ever looked up at a sky full of stars and found the wonder of it all a far more powerful experience than the simple explanations of a faith school education. To guide her in her quest to free the minds of other children less fortunate than herself, she is helped along by a one of a kind clockwork compass which, rather like the scientific process of deductive logic, gives the reader open to its methodologies, a truthful answer to any question asked of it.
Mrs. Coulter, played by Nicole Kidman, Lyra’s well meaning but ultimately manipulative and greedy nemesis, believes she has discovered a way to protect children from discovering these truths about the universe, as revealed by The Alethiometer, by subjecting her experimental catch of gypsy children to a process which removes from them their inquisitive young minds inherent ability to know right from wrong and seed this authority instead to the entrenched but fading authority of the magisterium.
The Golden Compass cast is a who’s who of acting talent. Sadly, some of the bigger names who overshadow the far superior supporting cast in the credits, give a phoned-in delivery. Nicole Kidman seems to have mistaken whispering to a silence for dynamic range and Sir Ian McKellen’s CGI presence as the talking bear Iorek Byrnison felt disjointed and unfinished.
On the up side, Dakota Blue Richards delivers a brilliantly well rounded character and her on- screen relationship with the rest of the cast is genuine and warm.
All in all, if you like bear fighting, flying robot poison insects and plenty of swashbuckling action adventure, refreshingly free of bad language and tactless sexual references which often feel crow-barred into a script in a vein attempt to attract an older audience to what is essentially a younger person’s film, The Golden Compass is a brilliant bit of fun for all the family, with a teasing ending that more in the franchise is yet to come. I can’t wait!