Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

What’s up with the cliffhanger, huh? So I’m watching this flick ‘The Golden Compass’ and I’m enjoying it quite a bit and then I’m kind of looking at my watch knowing the running time for this movie is about up and they haven’t really resolved some major stuff here. And sure enough, it kind of ends as if I was supposed to comeback to the theater tomorrow to finish the rest of the story. I go home and check my Internet sources because surely the way it ended they must have made a couple of these things back to back, ala the two ‘Matrix’ sequels or ‘Lord of the Rings’, but no, there doesn’t seem to be ANY indication that another movie is coming anytime soon. Since this flick was unfortunately a major box-office disappointment for Newline Cinema, it’s looking like a sequel will not be forthcoming. Just a note Newline Cinema, if the star of your film is a twelve year old girl, as Dakota Blue Richards is the star of this one, and you’re even THINKING about continuing the story, then perhaps you should jump on it as soon as possible. Twelve year olds, particularly girls, grow up quickly and in the most unexpected ways.

Based on the Phillips Pullman novel, ‘The Golden Compass’ tells the tale of an alternate universe, one of the many which we are told are all connected by some kind of magical dust. In this particular world the inhabitants walk along side their ‘demons’ which are talking animals that are emotionally linked to their persons and assist in guiding their lives. Daniel Craig is Lord Asriel, a magistrate at the university who has found this mysterious dust in the northern provinces of this world and seeks the secrets that it holds and wished to learn how it can link all these separate worlds together. However the oppressive religious body which lords over these citizens, the Magisterium, led by some dude they call the Magisterial Emissary (Derek Jacobi) wants this nonsense to stop as any discovery such as this would overturn centuries of solid brainwashing. There is also a little girl by the name of Lyra Belaqua (Richards),

an orphan who is Lord Asirel’s neice, who seems to hold the key to all of this dust and what not. The Emissary dispatches his top free thought suppressor, Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), to keep a close eye on this child under the guise of friendship.

It’s not long until the precocious Lyra figures out that Marisa is no friend and that she only wants possession of the Golden Compass that she was given, Lyra being one of the last people who can use its power. With the help of some friends, Lyra manages to escape the clutches of her Magisterial oppressors, and sets forth on a grand adventure to free some of her children friends who are part of a diabolical effort to crush all free thought, and also hopefully to free her uncle who has run into his own set troubles on his path to the northern provinces in his efforts to find the secrets of this magical dust.

Written and directed by Chris Weitz, who crafted one of my all time favorite films in ‘About a Boy’, Weitz is finding himself the target of a ton poison tipped arrows because of his handling of this film. Leading the charge is no less a force than the Catholic Church who don’t seem to appreciate what I’m guessing are the corollary’s between them and the fictional Magisterium and have vowed to boycott the film. A close second in the Weitz hater patrol are fans of the book series who are none too happy with the direction the end of this film took, and I wasn’t too happy with it either and I never read the book. But apparently the expected ending was much darker and sad with these actual scenes being shot by Weitz and company, but they opted to excise from the film, the plan being to include them in the beginning of the sequel, a sequel which look like never will come. Lame.

Nonetheless, since I don’t have the book weighing down my expectations of ‘The Golden Compass’, I wasn’t nearly as disappointed in it as fans of the original text were. The film starts out rather deliberately, and for good reason as there are characters and a history that needs to be constructed, but it does pick its pace considerably by the time Nicole Kidman shows up on the screen, still devastatingly beautiful at the tender age of forty-one. It just seems genetically unfair. With the spunky young miss Richards driving the narrative and coupled with the top notch visual effects and superior voice acting from the characters voicing the animal ‘demons’, the films turns into quite the adventurous roller coaster ride.

I was a little surprised at how violent the film was with a body count that would make John Rambo step back and whisper ‘dang’. Note that this is reflected in the films PG-13 rating and its violence was completely bloodless, even artistic in nature, but folks were still dying at an alarming rate.

It’s a shame that the general public didn’t give this film the support that would be necessary to support a second installment in the franchise, though I suspect it will do very well when it is eventually released to DVD, which in my limited non-business educated mind might inspire people wanting more, due to the very open ended conclusion of this film. I am of the opinion that these folks would rush to theaters to get some kind of closure were a second film to be released. I know I would. ‘The Golden Compass’, despite the barbs that have been lobbed against it, still was a fun, but somewhat dark adventure to behold.

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