topfivefilms.com Tuesday 18th January 2022
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The Golden Compass (PG)
Directed by: Chris Weitz
Reviewed by: Paul Fonz

The Golden Compass is the first of three novel adaptations we can expect to see in cinemas over the next few years, based on the enormously successful His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Correctly titled Northern Lights in the UK, the story follows Lyra Belacqua, an eleven year old girl who lives and studies at Jordan College in Oxford.

Ice Bears: undoubtedly the best thing in the film
Ice Bears: undoubtedly the best thing in the film

The thing is this is not the Oxford we know and love, it's Oxford in an alternate universe – a universe in which people have a creature or "daemon" that follows them everywhere and is as much a part of them as a person's soul.

Things start to get complicated for Lyra when the mysterious Mrs Coulter (Nicole Kidman) comes to visit the college and takes Lyra away to the frozen north with her as an assistant. At the same time, Lyra's school friend is abducted by a group known as the Gobblers and she vows to find him.

During the course of her adventure, Lyra discovers an evil plot involving something called "intercision" (sounds sinister) and encounters flying machines, ice bears (armoured polar bears that love to fight) and all kinds of crazy characters.

I can't praise Pullman's books highly enough (in fact his trilogy was voted in the top five books ever written in the BBC's big read a few years ago) but translating his book to the screen was always going to be difficult. It gets even worse when you hear about the troubled production this film has had, with directors joining and leaving, citing "creative differences" and so on.

Ultimately though, Chris Weitz has managed to produce a fairly entertaining, fantastic looking family film, that I'm sure will do very well at the box office and pave the way for Narnia-esque Christmas sequels.

Of course, the film is not without its flaws. In fact, it has many. Some of the casting is quite questionable, although they have nailed the characters of Lee Scoresby and Mrs Coulter. Daniel Craig in his role as Asriel is nowhere near menacing or stern enough, and honestly hardly features in the film anyway.

The whole intercision plot line is one of several strands in the book, but in this film it is treated as the main and almost only story thread, completely missing out the ending of the book. Which brings me to the biggest problem with The Golden Compass – it has a terrible ending. It ends too soon in the story, leaving everything set for a sequel but no proper climax and it's clunkily executed too. It also means the films will now be out of synch with the books.

I am among the many fans who are very disappointed at the directors decision to skirt round the controversial religious themes in the book, a decision taken to avoid any religious controversy impacting on the film's box office success in America. However, it is ultimately still good fun to watch and has left me with the impression that I need to find myself a daemon and an ice bear from somewhere...

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Length: 113 minutes
Certificate: PG
Official Site: http://www.goldencompassmovie.com/
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385752/
Release Date: 5th December 2007

Top Five Rating: 80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0% (80.0%)
User Rating: 70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0% (70.0%)

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