Set in an alternate universe where souls live outside the body as demons, The Golden Compass is no childrenís movie. Graphic violence, beautiful special effects and dark, rich plot lines are far too dark for a child.
Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is sent off by her uncle to a boarding school. While she is there she runs amuck, lying and creating general mischief with her friend Roger (Ben Walker), until he is kidnapped. Her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) raises eyebrows when he bucks the Magisterium, the religious authority in their world, and sets off to study a forbidden substance, Dust. So enraged by the fact that he would commit serious acts of heresy, the Magisterium sends Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) to collect Lyra and keep an eye on her while they hunt her uncle. What the Magisterium doesnít know is Lyra has the last Alethiometer, a truth telling device. Lyra meets an ice bear named Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellen) and an aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott).
A myriad of ďAĒ list celebrities speckle the cast. Rich and powerful voices like Ian McKellen give characters like a giant ice bear breath and humanity. Nicole Kidman gives her character brooding intensity. Sam Elliot brings his typical rough and tumble attitude to his character. Daniel Craig, whose role is fairly minimal, is tough but intelligent. Even new comer Ben Walker is downright adorable.
The only actor whose performance doesnít add to the believability and sparkle is Dakota Blue Richards. I realize her character is supposed to be extremely, well, extreme but the acting doesnít have to so obvious. She is a child, a cute one granted, but when you cast the main character, they have to be strong, even if it is a childís role. Richards does not make me want to slice my eyes open with a butter knife but her acting couldnít be considered a hot knife through butter either.
The animated scenes range from dull right on through to jaw dropping beauty. Lyraís demon is a magical character whose shape transitions from creature to creature, reflecting the emotion and tension of the moment. The scenery is outstanding. The ice bear loafs and fights wonderfully. There is one glaring exception to the beauty of The Golden Compass, Marisa Coulterís demon. Watch for him to disappoint you.
The Golden Compass is less a smooth linear storyline and more a collection of stories and adventures that get the audience where they are supposed to be. Reminiscent of old fashioned adventure movie storytelling, The Golden Compass is a far choppier experience than I enjoy.
The Golden Compass has serious graphic violence. None of the violence is bloody but it is shocking. There was a scene, I wonít ruin for you, that left the entire audience eyebrows furrowed, mouth open and pressed up against the back of their seat. The themes of the movie are far too complex for a small child to understand. I would recommend you donít bring any child younger than twelve years old to see this movie and if they are around that age, make sure they are mature enough to handle the violence in a medieval war movie without blood.
The meat of The Golden Compass is the power of the truth against the power of an established greed, and how children seem more able to see the truth. The Magisterium tries everything it can to keep power, even as far as to kill innocent children. They try to close institutions of learning. Their reach is long and their grasp tight but like any greedy person who tries to hold the sand of power too tightly, the sand slips between their fingers and free thinkers pop out.
I did love the message of the movie. It made eyes sparkle with righteous pride. As a devout free-thinking atheist, any movie that shows the downright power hungry nature of established religion gets extra bonus points from me.
My feelings are mixed when it comes to The Golden Compass. I love the themes, most of the graphics and the acting in general. Itís the rough edges, fragmented storytelling and awkward ending that chaffed my skin. Even though a small amount of Vaseline could be necessary, The Golden Compass wonít rub you raw.
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