The Golden Compass


Review by Charles Moffat - December 2007.

Starring Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Eva Green, Derek Jacobi, Christopher Lee. Written and directed by Chris Weitz.

At major theatres. 113 minutes. 14A

For a children's movie I thought the Golden Compass was surprisingly good. The plot was good, graphics excellent, a fantastic backdrop of "steampunk" origins and great metaphors for the constant fight between freedom of thought versus the authority of the government and church.

The biggest and only flaw is the allies that show up out of no where and rescue the heroine 12-year old Lyra from enemies at every turn.

It is all too... convenient.

It is like watching the Lord of the Rings and the ranger in the corner just HAPPENS to be the missing king. Bilbo conveniently gives Frodo a magic sword and a mythril chain shirt. Gandalf dies and conveniently shows up when they need him again.

I'm not going to cite specific examples from The Golden Compass (and thus ruin the movie for you), but you get the idea.

The movie is also the first part of a trilogy, which means you will also have to wait for the 2nd and 3rd movies to come out, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

To some extent trilogies are now the norm for fantasy epics. Hollywood has realized there is huge profits to be made making huge big budget fantasy movies, and specific popular children books are an excellent place to start. The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, The War of the Lance are but a few that have either already been made or are currently in production.

The series is based on Philip Pullman's award-winning and critically acclaimed book trilogy "His Dark Materials".

Part of the controversy surrounding the books and movies is the supposed atheist slant, but I disagree. The story is much more anti-authority and free-thought than anti-religion.

If anything it actually supports religion because in this fantasy world a person's soul is self-evident in the form of an animal companion. Their soul, made manifest through a mysterious spiritual dust, takes the shape of different animals based on the personality of the character.

So souls, god, etc. are self-evident and part of every day life. When a person dies their animal companion/soul evaporates into dust and goes to Heaven.

Unfortunately the villains in this movie have decided to experiment with something called "intercission" which causes a person's soul to be ripped away from them.

Also unfortunately not all people have managed to make this leap of faith to actually watch the movie before deciding whether the movie is anti-religion or pro-religion.

The local Catholic School Board for example has pulled all The Golden Compass and other Philip Pullman books from their libraries. The move has has stirred up controversy regarding the movie and whether it really is atheist or not, which I firmly believe it is actually pro-religion and anti-authority.

There is other issues in the movie too, like the alcoholic polar bear who has been robbed of his sacred armour (which like a samurai's sword is his soul). The cranky bear goes from drunk to king of the polar bears is very little time, mostly due to overly convenient plot devices.

There is also a fair amount of violence in the movie, but surprisingly no gore. Deaths happen, but instead of blood we see dust evaporating as animal companions suddenly make the trip to Heaven or Hell.

Very little is known about dust in the movie and it is presumed more will be explained in the following movies. What is known that strange lights have been seen in the far north of the world, coming from a dust portal which leads to alternate versions of earth.

The evil Magisterium (the government) apparently knows more about dust than they are telling, otherwise how else could they have created the intercission process? The Magisterium tends to wear a lot of NAZI-ish uniforms and dictates their orders to the masses, conducts secret intercission experiments on children and seeks to brainwash the masses into subservitude.

In otherwords the leadership of this world has become so corrupt with power that they now embody all the worst aspects of humanity.

Anti-religion? Nonsense.

And as for the Golden Compass itself? It is a spiritual artifact which shows the truth, and only the heroine Lyra can read it.

A portion of the profits from the Golden Compass goes towards the World Wildlife Fund and to help protect polar bears from climate change.

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