The Golden Compass

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The latest film inspired by the phenomenal success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Golden Compass, is both complex and interesting, although without some of the magic that helped to make the Rings trilogy a classic.

The Golden Compass is the story of a courageous young girl, Lyra Belacqua (played with aplomb by Dakota Blue Richards). Lyra lives in an orphanage, and is cared for at a distance by her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig).

During a visit from her uncle, she prevents him from being poisoned, but also overhears a presentation by Lord Asriel about “dust.” Dust is some sort of amorphous substance that passes between dimensions, but also, in some fashion, helps to bind humans to their “demons” (aka “familiars”) which are animal companions.

Lord Asriel gives Lyra an Alethiometer, which looks like a golden compass with pictographs around the rim. The purpose of the Alethiometer is to “tell the truth.” It allows the bearer to ascertain information, and eventually Lyra learns to interpret its signals.

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Lyra also becomes caught up in a confusing political push by the Magisterium (a church- like institution that rules the “England” of this world). She is recruited by the lovely Marisa Coulter (MILF Nicole Kidman), who initially appears to Lyra as a confidante but is later revealed to be an agent of the Magisterium attempting to use both Lyra and her Althiometer for questionable purposes.

Kidman’s Coulter is a beautiful shimmering pillar of statuesque menace, reminding me of the less statuesque but equally menacing Suzanne Maretto in 1995’s To Die For.

In her quest, Lyra befriends and is helped by a cadre of witches led by Serfina Pekkala (Eva Green), a group of ‘Gyptians led by John Faa (Jim Carter), and an a**-kicking polar bear warrior named Ragnar Sturlusson (voiced by Ian McShane). The latter provides one of the coolest sequences of the film, a battle between armor-clad polar bears that is jaw-dropping in a very literal sense of the phrase.

The ending of the film, which leaves a huge amount of room for several sequels, is well done, but somehow left me feeling a little unsettled. I think that my biggest complaint about the film is that it did not provide enough exposition regarding the alternate reality inhabited by the characters in the film.

The movie is an adaptation of the book Northern Lights, written by Philip Pullman. From discussions with those who have read the book, the series is quite well written and provides an interesting alternate reality. Unlike some viewers, I had not read Northern Lights prior to seeing the film. As a result, discussions of “dust” and the alternate reality providing the framework for the film were conceptually strange and unnecessarily confusing.

The film was directed by Chris Weitz, previously known for his work on the movie About a Boy and (uncredited and uncomfirmed) American Pie. His direction is interesting and competent, but I did not have the same feeling of humanity and deep understanding of his subject matter that I had with Peter Jackson and the LOTR trilogy.

Although I enjoyed the film, it seems to be missing many of the movie elements which so richly filled the LOTR universe. I apologize for the repeated comparisons to Tolkien’s work and Jackson’s remarkable movie adaptation. I suspect, howevere, that similar comparisons will be made by almost all moviegoers who have seem both films. I look forward to the next installment from this series in the hope that it will provide further information about the interesting alternate world inhabited by the film’s characters.

I give it *** Jessicas out of a possible 4.

EK

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