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The International Writers Magazine: Film Review

The Golden Compass
Directed & written by Chris Weitz
1hr 58min - Adventure/Fantasy - English
Based upon Philip Pullman's novel 'Northern Lights'
Lyra Belacqua- Dakota Blue Richards
Mrs. Coulter- Nicole Kidman
Lord Asriel- Daniel Craig
John Faa- Jim Carter
Serafina Pekkala- Eva Green
Lee Scoresby- Sam Elliott

Sam North review
*Now nominated for Two Oscars

I approached entering the Vue Cinema with some trepidation. Like millions of others who have cherished Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' I was slightly apprehensive as to what the American director Chris Weitz (About a Boy) would do with it. Cinema is littered with bad adaptations, but then again, some would say, and I am one of them, that Harry Potter is a damn sight better on screen than in the books. The difference being that Pullman is a better writer.

But right from the start, with Lyra on the rooftops of her parallel Oxford and mixing with the Gyptian kids, it was right and felt that someone had really thought hard about what we would see and had a sense of the position Lyra holds in our hearts.

Seeing the amazing designs and beautifully devised modes of transport, the fully realised vision of this alternative world and the high victorian costuming, someone has done their homework. It is lavish and convincing. The casting of Nicole Kidman as the evil Mrs Coulter works well, she is truly, icily evil. Born for this. By contrast, Lyra, played by Dakota Blue Richards is a wayward tyke, a tad obnoxious at first, but strong and needs to be to get through the tasks ahead. Pretty damn good casting. She has to carry the film and practically carries it off.

Some of the shots feel as though some someone referenced early Liz Taylor movies and costuming takes its cue from National Velvet and Terry Gilliam Brazil.

The Gyptians, the marsh people, who are outside the rules and influences of the Majesterium, arrived pretty quickly, possibly too quickly, but there is a lot to get through. Lyra saves her Uncle's life, is entrusted with the alethiometer (Golden Compass) and then finds herself whisked away by Mrs Coulter, only to find she is heading up the Gobblers, who are abducting children for a specific, cruel experiment. They are trying to part children from their souls. In this world, children and adults souls appear as animals, not taking their final shape until adulthood. Lyra's Pan moved from bird to cat, to weasel to cat again with each of her moods and the daemons, as they are called, are just amazing, a triumph of special effects and one immediatly wants one. One can quite see why the King of the Bears is desperate to own one.

The London, where Mrs Coulter resides, is again high Victorian and fascinating. Mrs Coulter's daemon is a vicious monkey, quite in keeping with her personality and desperate to get hold of the Golden Compass. Lyra seizes her opportunity to escape and runs. Once freed from Mrs Coulter she has no idea where to go,or whom to trust. Meanwhile it seems everyone is out to get her.

Lyra is saved by the Gyptians as she runs from the Gobblers and taken North by ship. Everything points north where the children have been taken. Finally Lyra discovers how to use the compass and how it works in mysterious ways using 'dust' and the special power she possesses. After all, the witches know that she is a child of destiny, born, like Jean D'Arc before her in another world to rid them of oppression. In this case it is the dreadful, evil Majesterium (The Authority) who control all thought and now wish to rid the world of daemons, so they will control all lives. To that end there is the worlds sharpest knife waiting for the children grabbed by the Gobblers.

It is this then - Lyra has to save the children, find her friends and on her way save the world. To help her she meets Gyptians, a massive talking armoured bear Iorek Byrnison (albiet a drunk at first, voiced somewhat bombasticlly by Sir Ian McKellan when it should have had a Danish accent) and Lee Scoresby an American adventurer with a flying machine and pretty unique hare as daemon. Captured once again and almost killed Lyra discovers to her horror that Mrs Coulter is her mother. It is a terrible shock. It is even more of an imperative to escape again, find her friend Roger and reconnect with Iorek Brynison.

The wonderful machines, the whole imagined world, is just so complete and the battles of the bears and eventual fight between the wolfmen and the Gyptians on the ice is violent, tough and would definitely terrify small children so much they will want to see it again and again!

Mention must go to the soundtrack that has a curious engineering rythmn to it (Mrs Coutler's theme). Composed and conducted by Alexandre Desplat with an exit track by Kate Bush (an irrelevance as you are already out of the door by the time it comes on). The music is nervous with curious greek motifs running through it and some interesting percussion moments but it is alive and refreshing.

I was hugely upset when the film ended, just as they were set to rescue her Uncle (Father) Lord Asriel and hope, with all my heart that they film the rest of the trilogy very soon. One cannot leave it there - literally up in the air. Dakota Blue is a discovery, huge stories have to be played out and no matter the names have been changed, we know who the Majesterium represent and why the prophesy must come true. Roll on Subtle Knife.

© Sam North Dec 2007
*Box office take in Europe is almost twice that of the USA - which I suspect reflects the esteem Philip Pullman is held in Europe rather than inthe USA.
Worldwide Box Office - Feb 1st $250 million
Lee Scoresby's Hare

Sam North is the author of Diamonds - The Rush of 72 and Curse of the Nibelung - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery and editor of

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