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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » January 9, 2008
Film Review
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The Golden Compass
January 9, 2008 By Witold Żygulski   
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The Golden Compass, an adaptation of Philip Pullman's bestselling book Northern Lights, is yet another attempt to cash in on the new "fantasy for kids and adults" craze. Director Chris Weitz is no stranger to moviegoers, having been a 2002 Academy Award nominee for About a Boy.

This time, he was no doubt inspired by the staggering successes of the screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Just in case the genre hasn't quite been milked for all it's worth, The Golden Compass sets the stage for its own sequel by leaving the good against evil struggle unresolved.

According to Lord Asriel, a mysterious explorer and globetrotter played by Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Munich, The Road to Perdition), the world of The Golden Compass is set in one of billions of parallel universes woven together by stardust, the source of all life. This is a world in which people have spiritual counterparts or "daemons" which assume animal forms and accompany humans throughout their lives. This, however, is not to everyone's liking. The Magisterium is bent on controlling everyone's lives and, to this end, will resort to anything, even murder, although they mostly rely on elaborate instruments to break the bonds that bind children to their daemons before these mental incarnations can develop.

This portrayal of the Magisterium had Christians calling for a boycott even before the movie was released, claiming it attacked the Church and promoted atheism. Undeterred, the film went straight to number one at the box office.

Lyra Belaqua (played by 13-year-old Dakota Blue Richards in her screen debut) comes by a truth-telling device known as a golden compass that once belonged to Lord Asriel. Although she cannot operate the device, she sets off in search of Lord Asriel and several children kidnapped by the Magisterium. She finds very few allies in her quest. There is a gallant polar bear, balloonist Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott-Tombstone, Hulk, Gettysburg), witch Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green-Kingdom of Heaven, Casino Royale) and a band of gypsies whom the Magisterium regard as subhuman.

The Magisterium is represented by Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman-The Hours, Moulin Rouge, The Others) who tries to dominate Lyra under the guise of kindness and empathy. Coulter is working in cahoots with the leaders of the Magisterium played by Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius, Gladiator, Gosford Park) and Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars, the first three episodes).

The rest is classic fantasy-criss-crossing the world to combat evil, fleeing pursuers and fighting ruthless enemies against hopeless odds. Having pulled through, they embark on a new stage of their quest.

The schematic plot of The Golden Compass is little more than an excuse to show off some amazing special effects, especially the omnipresent daemons who alone make the trip worthwhile for 12-year-olds and 42-year-olds alike. Another plus is Alexandre Desplat's (The Queen, Syriana, Casanova, Girl with a Pearl Earring) atmospheric score.
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