The Golden Compass

Posted December 6, 2007 in Film

The battle rages on for the hearts and minds of our wee tots who just want to see kids like themselves go on grand adventures with talking animals. Harry Potter was denounced for pushing black magic, Narnia for hard-selling Christianity, and now busybodies are up in arms over His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman’s avowed atheism. The Golden Compass, the first in his trilogy, concerns an evil organization called The Magisterium—a cabal of robed men who favor religious iconography and a stratified society that places themselves at the top and the mindless, subservient masses beneath. As their cleverest agent Ms. Coulter (Nicole Kidman, and no, her character was created a year before the other blonde harridan’s MSNBC debut) explains, only certain people deserve free will. That such a fiefdom could have ever existed in 1095, or 1481, or even 2007 is of course absurd; this is clearly a parallel universe. But all the same, it’s nice to see spunky Lyra Belacqua (strong newcomer Dakota Blue Richards) set about bringing it down. She’s helped by a whole mess of fantastical creations: her distracted caretaker Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), a gang of nomads, a magical truth-telling compass, a cowboy aeronaut (Sam Elliott), some witches ex machina helmed by Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green), and a tremendous fighting polar bear (voiced by Ian McKellen) whose battle scenes are simply beautiful for anyone who has watched the soon-to-be-extinct species limp along on Animal Planet. Most crucially, she’s always accompanied by her dæmon Pan, a cuddly external soul (voiced by Freddie Highmore), whose very existence should settle all fears that Pullman is trying to slip anti-spirituality into his phantasmagoria. While the film is both soaring and expository, before it trails off in an ending that draws out cliffhanging goals for the next two installments, Lyra is the best child hero in recent memory. Surpassing the timid drone of Pan’s Labyrinth or the Pevensie siblings’ do-gooder sap, she’s brave, smart, and the best liar in the universe. (Amy Nicholson)


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