The Golden Compass
directed by Chris Weitz
(New Line, 2007)

The Golden Compass storyline is one that's a well-known favorite for fantasy readers. It's both an adventure-quest and a coming-of-age tale for a young orphan. What makes the movie such a standout is the execution of the story both visually and sonically.

The world of The Golden Compass is made up of a variety of lifeforms. Humans all have daemons bonded to them. Daemons shapeshift at will while the child's soul is still developing and at some point in their maturity take a fixed animal shape. Witches have the gift of magic, plus the daemons bound to them do not have to remain as close as those bound to mere humans. Ice (polar) bears are one of the fiercest and strongest of the peoples, and armored ones are often hired as bodyguards.

In the beginning, orphaned Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) has no knowledge of her true parentage. She and her daemon, Pan, are the wards of her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). She attends a boarding school, Jordan College.

The story opens with Lord Asriel returning to Jordan College to advise the administration that he's found "dust" in the Northern Country. Dust is the constituent material of parallel worlds, and Asriel believes he can travel between them. He's asking the college to fund his research.

The Magisterium is a body that's attempting to regulate the world's magical gifts and keep them under control. Their representative at the college opposes this research and tries to convince the academics not to sponsor it. Failing at that, he poisons the wine Lord Asriel was to drink at his presentation. Fortunately, Lyra was spying and warned her uncle before he could take that fateful sip.

The college agrees to sponsor Asriel's research and he sets out on another mission to the north. Lyra asks to come, but he will not permit it. She is to remain safe at school. Needless to say, this edict doesn't sit well with the strong-minded young woman.

After Asriel has departed, Lyra is given the Alethiometer, a Golden Compass, which tells the truth -- as long as the person using it knows how to frame the questions posed and read the answers from the symbols around the compass' outer ring. She's told to keep the device a secret. At one time there were several such devices. The Magisterium has them all now.

Enter the lovely Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), whom Lyra first meets at a Jordan College dinner. Mrs. C. takes an immediate fancy to Lyra and offers her a chance to come along with her on a trip to the north to see the ice bears. Despite misgivings, the headmaster releases Lyra into Mrs. C's care.

Lyra quickly learns she has no freedom in Mrs. Coulter's house. Worse, the compass keeps displaying GOB, GOB, GOB. ... Almost too late, Lyra realizes Mrs. Coulter is one of the Magisterium and a Gobbler to boot -- the Gobblers are people who are kidnapping children, who are never seen again.

Lyra and Pan escape. They're helped by a band of Gyptians (wanderers) who get them to Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot), who is willing to help her if she can get his ship out of hock and help his friend Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen), an armored ice bear.

The rest of the story is for you to see, but it's very worth the price. Compass is one of the most beautifully filmed fantasies since The Lord of the Rings. The cast was very well chosen. I was impressed with Dakota's debut and am hoping to see her in future films. Voice-overs were perfect, and the music was also lovely.

I am certain I will want to see The Golden Compass again.

review by
Becky Kyle

19 April 2008

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