The Golden Compass (2007)

golden compass poster 2007 movie dakota blue richards
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 5/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking, good cast

Can't commit to following the book or pleasing critics

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Golden Compass

Studio:  New Line Cinema

Genre(s):  Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Drama

Release Date(s):  November 27, 2007 (Premiere)/December 5, 2007 (UK)/December 7, 2007 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

golden compass lyra belacqua alethiometer dakota blue richards

I can’t wait to spend years unlocking the mystery of this device….or not

Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is a special child.  Orphaned, she lives at Jordan College in Oxford at the request of her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) who is researching something called “Dust” which is forbidden by the Magisterium.  Lyra finds herself invited to an expedition to the North with Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) and is given a gift called the alethiometer.  As Lyra finds she can read the alethiometer, she learns that Mrs. Coulter’s actions might not be entirely pure…and that she could be the key to the coming war.

Directed by Chris Weitz, The Golden Compass adapts Philip Pullman’s 1995 novel The Northern Lights (generally called The Golden Compass in the United States and other areas) which is the first part of the His Dark Material trilogy.  The movie was met with criticism from Christian groups due to the atheist nature of the novels and upon its release, criticism from fans that felt that the movie deviated from the source material to accommodate criticism.  The film still performed well at the box office (especially internationally) and won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

The His Dark Material series is very, very tricky.  Not only does it have an atheist theme that doesn’t jive with many mainstream viewers, it combines this with children’s story aspects like talking animals and fantasy that doesn’t appeal to everyone.  Despite having read the books and enjoyed Narnia books as well, movies with talking animals and heavy fantasy sometimes leave me numb…and the non-committed nature of The Golden Compass really didn’t help.

golden compass iorek vs ragnar polar bears ian mckellen ian mcshane

Bear fight!

The first book and the movie honestly didn’t have much anti-religion parts to it, but it also is a set-up for the future films in which the story would become a problem for more people.  Here, it is watered down even more, but it is the structure of the movie which is more off-putting to me.  The filmmakers couldn’t decide how dark they wanted to go with the story (it’s pretty dark) and ended it before the end of the novel which saw Asriel severing Roger’s daemon and killing him…here, they fly off happy and ready for the next adventure.  It is too happy-happy for a dark story.

The cast however is quite good which unfortunately posed another problem.  Dakota Blue Richards can carry the movie and she’s backed up with a lot of talent including Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliot, Eva Green, Christopher Lee, Jim Carter, and Derek Jacobi in live action roles with Freddie Highmore, Ian McKellen, Ian McShane, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Kathy Bates providing the voices to daemons.  With a movie that is a committed trilogy and a risk, casting big actors runs the danger of not being able to hold onto them if the movie under-performs…which by U.S. standards it did.

golden compass lyra pan separation dakota blue richards

There are some genuinely terrifying scenes.

The movie looks great though.  My fears about talking animals were alleviated visually by some great special effects.  The animals created for the movie combined with the steampunk look and locations really give the movie an environment you want to explore…unfortunately, it was cut short.

The Golden Compass hurts a lot.  It has great potential, and the potential was dashed by trying to please everyone and not winning anyone as a result.  The books were good because you were not sure what would happen…being a kid did not mean you were safe.  The movie and pressure derailed the sequels and the full story was never presented.  The rights reverted back to Pullman, and the BBC began adapting His Dark Material in 2019 as a TV series.

Related Links:

His Dark Materials—Season 1 Review and Complete Episode Guide

His Dark Materials—Season 2 Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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