The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass

Film review by: Witney Seibold

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            The Golden Compass is better than most fantasy books in that it not creates a new and innovative world of fantasy creatures and concepts, but bases them in real thought, reason, and theological dilemmas. The author, Phillip Pullman, has never been quiet about the fact that he is a devout atheist, and indeed the later books in the His Dark Materials series increasingly reveal his anti-church and anti-God philosophies. He uses a lot of religious images, and does have a God-like force in his books (“Dust”), but has it stand for reason and free will. This new film version, written and directed by Chris Weitz, keeps much of the intellect and moral dilemmas of the book in tact, making it smarter and deeper than recent fantasy films like “Lord of the Rings,” or even the Christian-heavy “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

 

            The later books in the series (especially The Amber Spyglass) become very preachy, and thusly, not as good as the first. Since, however “The Golden Compass” made little money at the box office, it’s likely that the pissed-off Christian groups protesting the film (it’s claimed that it will turn young Christians into atheists) will not have a chance to protest the blatant Godlessness of the unbankable later films.

 

            The story: In a parallel universe, people walk alongside protective animal spirits, called dæmons, which represent their souls. As children, your dæmon changes shape, but as an adult, it’s settled into place. Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is an orphan living at an ivy-covered college amongst the stuffy professors, and learns from one Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) about a mysterious substance called Dust, which connects people to their dæmons, and connects all beings to one another. The Magisterium, a Catholic church-like religious organization, has tried for decades to cover up the existence of Dust, which serve to show their fanatical devotion to Original Sin concepts, and also to the Church’s tendency to deny Truth (incidentally, God and Jesus are never mentioned in the film; it’s all about the Magisterium).

 

            Lord Asriel goes on a quest to find the source of Dust, and Lyra is spirited away by a vaguely sinister woman named Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) into the lap of luxury. Lyra has been entrusted with an alethiometer, a golden compass that, if read correctly, can point to the truth. Mrs. Coulter seems to have a relation to the mysterious child disappearances that have been plaguing the countryside, and Lyra soon flees and finds herself in the presence of friendly sea-faring Gyptians (led by Claire Higgins), a Southern sky captain (Sam Elliott), a buxom witch (Eva Green), and a talking polar bear named Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellan, and animated to have McKellan’s own sneer in tact). It’s up to her to stop whatever it is that Mrs. Coulter is up to, and help Lord Asirel do what he needs to, all the while supporting her new bear/witch/skyman/boatpeople friends.

             I have read the books, so the film moved a little too swiftly for me (that always happens when I read the book before I see the film). Also, the film had too many cute cameos by great actors: Kathy Bates, Derek Jacobi, Christopher Lee, and Kristen Scott Thomas were all called in to give a few line readings. They’re good actors all, but the film could have served just as well without them. Otherwise, it was a fantastic and well-though-out fantasy film based on a very good children’s fantasy novel. It is rich and cold and gorgeous, the story never loses itself, and it contains enough real-world theology to be poignant and thoughtful.

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Published in: on December 18, 2007 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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