This library patron kept asking me about the arrival of the 3rd book and insisted that I read the first book, "The Golden Compass." Having read "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" during my senior year of high school, I felt as if I peaked in the reading of alternative worlds and fantasy novels. The success of the "Harry Potter" books and movies have more to do with character development. As much as I tried, I could not get interested in Phillip Pullman's vision of "His Dark Materials."
"His Dark Materials Book I: The Golden Compass" is a 399 page book that could easily translate into a three hour epic movie. Mercifully New Line Cinema scaled their movie adaptation of "The Golden Compass" to under two hours. While Phillip Pullman purists may balk at the streamlining of the first book, the narrative changes make "The Golden Compass"an approachable film.
Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is a fourteen year old girl who lives in an alternative universe. In this universe, the people have their souls outside of their bodies in the form of animals, called daemons. Lyra lives with her Uncle Asriel (Daniel Craig) who has discovered a scientific phenomenon in the northern lights region. After obtaining funding for his expedition, Uncle Asriel undertakes the journey, aware that those mean Magisterium officials are trying to prevent his discovery.
Lyra comes under the influence of Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a socialite with a dark agenda. As she learns more about Mrs. Coulter's modus operandi, Lyra escapes and befriends a witch (Eva Green), a cowboy (Sam Elliot) and a captive armored polar bear (voice by Ian McKellen). Lyra learns about Mrs. Coulter's insidious plot involving kidnapping and experimenting upon children. A battle develops between the forces of good and evil ensures and the plot is set up for the sequel; "The Subtle Knife."
Visually, "The Golden Compass" is a very effective motion picture. The action is set within the frame of a motion picture, so one can see the action as it happens, avoiding jarring camera movement. One effective sequence involves the battle of two polar bears. The fight ends with a great, but vicious, knockout blow. The cinematography of the northern lights and the university setting is gorgeous in their amber, blues and purple hue.
New Line Cinema has tried to recreate the alchemy of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy by recasting Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee. Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Eva Green reunite from previous partnerships, which detracts from "The Golden Compass." During static exposition scenes, one thinks of the other movies ("The Invasion," "Casino Royale") that these actors have been involved in. It doesn't help that the leading lady, Dakota Blue Richards portrays Lyra as a sourpuss. Dakota Blue Richards’ performance made me long for Ivana Baquero’s charming and tragic performance from last year's award winning "Pan's Labyrinth," which is now available on DVD.
As a creative time passer "The Golden Compass" is not a bad movie. Ironically the religious boycott of "The Golden Compass" probably propelled this motion picture to 25 million dollar opening weekend. Sometimes individuals will spend money on things just because they are told not too.