A stunning performance from last year, The Golden Compass was a delight on screen for movie-goers. Set in a parallel world from the imagination of Phillip Pullman and his novel Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in North America), the first of the trilogy His Dark Materials, the story starts by introducing Lyra Belacqua, played by new actress Dakota Blue Richards, who lives in a world comparatively similar to our own except for one overtly obvious difference: all humanoid souls exist externally to the host body in a quasi-independent animal form called a daemon.
Lyra’s uncle and guardian, an explorer and researcher uncle named Lord Asriel (played by Daniel Craig), has left Lyra and her daemon Pan behind in the care of the university as he makes his way to the North Pole to study a substance called “dust” that leaks through the northern lights from the other parallel worlds.
One evening at dinner, Lyra is introduced to a mysterious lady named Mrs. Coulter, portrayed by Nicole Kidman. During this fateful meeting, Mrs. Coulter explains that she is also in the works of making an expedition to the North Pole and has need for a young assistant to accompany her, and of course, Lyra leaps at the chance.
However, before Lyra leaves the next day for the Coulter house, the headmaster of the university gives her a special golden compass-like instrument called an alethiometer which can identify the truth to any question if the user knows how to read it.
Lyra then leaves her only home with Mrs. Coulter, but after many days of waiting, the journey to the North Pole looks even more distant than before. So, being the curious child that she is, Lyra snoops around this mysterious woman’s manor, and uncovers a dark secret in doing so—it appears that not only does this woman work for the Magisterium, an organized religious body that is suspect in many wrong-doings, but she, as a head of a secret branch of the Magisterium, has records that detail the kidnapping of children including Lyra’s best friend, Roger. Lyra and Pan, unable to wait to save their friend and fearing for their lives, steal away that very night to travel to the North Pole taking Lyra’s alethiometer along.
Along the way they make allies and friends that help them to overcome many dangers: the Gyptians, a water-faring people, whose children have also been kidnapped; an aeronaut named Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot); the witches led by Queen Serafina (Eva Green); and Iorek Byrnison, an armored ice bear voiced by Ian McKellen.
While the movie was a masterful demonstration of how imagination could be brought on screen and easily captivate an audience with its astounding wonders, many fans of the series will still find fault between the motion picture and Pullman’s book.
There were several discrepancies that should be voiced, including leaving the novel’s ending out of the first movie (hopefully the true ending of Northern Lights will appear in a sequel).
That being said, the movie really is spectacular in its special effects, and all right if a bit lacking under the direction of Chris Weitz. The film’s home released sequel is worth the wait.