Review: The Golden Compass (2007)

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In a parallel universe, an epic battle between good and evil is brewing. An orphan named Lyra Belacqua finds herself playing an important role in events that will change her world (and ours) when she’s given an alethiometer, a truth-telling compass that guides her on an amazing journey. What begins as a rescue mission to save a group of kidnapped children becomes a journey of self-discovery for Lyra that will alter the course of history.

There’s much to praise in Chris Weitz’s film adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It looks great—the special effects and costumes are terrific—and the acting is first rate. Dakota Blue Richards gives an impressive acting debut as Lyra, the young girl who finds herself at the center of an epic battle between good and evil. Nicole Kidman is the ideal incarnation of the icy Mrs. Coulter, a beautiful blond with pale skin and dark eyebrows and the kind of smile that strikes fear in the heart. As one character puts it, you don’t want to get on her bad side.

As Lyra follows her quest north to the land of the Ice Bears, an army assembles around her. There’s a clan of Gyptians led by John Faa (Jim Carter); Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green), queen of a clan of witches who fly without brooms and wield a mean bow-and-arrow; and Lee Scoresby (a perfectly cast Sam Elliott), a wild west-style aeronaut. Last, but far from least, there is Iorek Byrnison, an armored polar bear that’s a fine bit of computer generated special effect.

I won’t get into the theological debates surrounding Pullman’s books, emphasis that has been toned down (too much or not enough, depending on your point of view) for the movie. And unfortunately I can’t remember the book well enough to quibble with any changes that were made in adapting the story to the screen but the film version flowed well and made sense to me. Of course, just as in the trilogy of books, Golden Compass the movie suffers a tad as set-up for the installments that follow. Here’s hoping that The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass will also be made into films, since so much great action, adventure and character development is yet to come.

I give The Golden Compass 4 out of 5 alethiometers.

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