The Golden Compass is something I deliberately avoided for 14 years. I distinctly remember seeing a trailer for the first time when I was 12. New Line Cinema made The Golden Compass seem like it was connected to The Lord of the Rings, but I now realize that was a desperate attempt to sell the movie to the same fantasy loving audience. When I learned more about the source material, I realized why I shouldn’t watch it. As a Christian, there was no way I’d embrace something with such a strong anti-religious theme. An anti-Chronicles of Narnia if you will. Unlike Harry Potter (which simply uses words like “witchcraft”), His Dark Materials is unmistakable, if a lot less well-known as to why it was mostly banned. English author Philip Pullman is a hardcore non-believer. I knew I wouldn’t like The Golden Compass out of principle, but the movie ended up bad regardless. Even judging it as an impartial film critic. There was studio interference, director Chris Weitz leaving, being replaced, then returning, and criticism from both sides of the compass. Secular fans of the book felt it watered down the themes and Christian/Catholic organizations did the same thing I probably would’ve done. Ultimately, The Golden Compass was a financial disappointment that became another failed franchise starter.
The Golden Compass takes place in an alternate dimension where humans have close animal companions representing their soul called dæmons (subtle). Aside from that, this world also uses blimps as air travel, has flying Witches, seafaring nomads called Gyptians, and armored polar bears in the North. The first noticeable problem with the movie is the hasty exposition for the 1 hour & 54 minute movie. The uncomfortable aspect is the main antagonist being a fictional church called the Magisterium. They silence the existence of Dust that can enter other dimensions and destroy the titular alethiometer golden compasses that are suppose to reveal truth. I was honestly pretty bored and the all-star cast didn’t help. Most characters show up for a little while, then disappear for an extended period of time. Dakota Blue Richards is the young wide-eyed protagonist Lyra Belacqua. Although The Golden Compass feels like a kids movie half the time, its PG-13 rating sometimes comes out of nowhere. Freddie Highmore voices Lyra’s dæmon Pantalaimon who changes animals at will. Daniel Craig is her uncle Lord Asriel who questions the Magisterium. Nicole Kidman is a clearly villainous friend of Asriel named Mrs. Coulter.
After receiving a compass from her college’s headmaster, Lyra willingly joins the strange lady in London. The main conflict is a group called “Gobblers” stealing children in order to cut out their dæmons. Lyra is joined by Gyptians, an aeronaut named Lee Scoresby played by Sam Elliott as himself, a friendly witch queen named Serafina Pekkala played by Eva Green, and an armored bear named Iorek Byrnison with the booming voice of Sir Ian McKellen. Christopher Lee is also in the movie in case it wasn’t already obvious. Ian McShane and Kathy Bates also have voice roles. I’ll admit the polar bears are the only thing I found interesting. Until the special effects get in the way. Despite somehow beating Transformers to win Best Visual Effects, the animals are rarely ever convincing. Sometimes the polar bears look alright, but other times it feels like a Coca-Cola commercial. Iorek becomes Lyra’s protector and she helps him fight his enemy for the throne. When Lyra finds her friends, the movie ends with a last minute battle. Followed by an abrupt happy ending where nothing feels resolved and the sequel baiting couldn’t be more obvious. Can’t say I’m disappointed at the lack of a follow up. I know the TV series His Dark Materials is supposed to be a better adaptation, but I’ll probably avoid that as well. In the end, I felt nothing for The Golden Compass.