That’s a lot to sort out.

Title: The Golden Compass

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Written by Philip Pullman and Chris Weitz.
Directed by Chris Weitz.


Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Balacqua
Nicole Kidman as Ann Marisa Coulter1
Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel
Freddie Highmore as Pantalaimon (voice)
Ian McKellen as lorek Byrnison (voice)
Brian Walker as Roger
Ian McShane as Ragnar Sturlusson (voice)
Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala
Sam Elliott as Lee Scoresby
Christopher Lee as First High Councilor

Full Cast and Crew


Adapted from the first (and by many accounts, best) of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, this film tells the story of a adolescent girl in an alternate, magical earth who faces several challenges when she receives a device forbidden by the Magisterium, the Church which rules her world.

High Point:

The visuals sell this film. We have a fantasy world rooted not in the iconography of the Middle Ages or some other Anciente Tyme, but in the early twentieth century. Weitz and company have crafted a beautiful and believable environment.

The scenes with lorek and the other bears work very well, and I hope he’ll have more to do in the sequel.

Low Point:

The film has an excess of plot and characters and consequently, only Lyra really feels developed. Potentially fascinating scenes—the boy separated from his soul, for example—are thrown away. Nicole Kidman tries hard, but they haven’t given the opportunity for her to really show the kind of villain she’s playing.

And then there’s the ending. Pullman may not believe in God, but the storytellers have no problem with the deus ex machina.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. We have an adaptation of the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and it is a story influenced by others. Indeed, Pullman wrote the series in part as a response to the Narnia series. However, it is the first attempt to bring this material to the screen, and it has a fairly original look.

Story: 4/6. We have a lengthy, convoluted story, and a lengthy convoluted children’s story, at that. It could be told well in novel form. Here, it turns into a series of events, occasionally interrupted by expository dialogue which keeps the children up to date. One thing happens, and then another, and then another, and then we realize we’re watching a prologue.

Effects: 6/6. The visual effects are first-rate. Some of the CGI animals move rather quickly, but this will seem realistic until even better effects come along.

Acting. 5/6. The actors are good, though they’ve not been given the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities because, save for Richards, no one gets nearly enough screen time.

Production: 6/6.

Emotional Response: 4/6. The film has some excellent scenes, but it never fully engaged me, in part because of limited characterization.

Overall: 4/6.

In total, The Golden Compass receives a score of 32/42.

Additional Comments

I have not read the novels that inspired this film, so I cannot compare book with movie. The first novel, known both as Northern Lights and The Golden Compass, serves as the basis for this film and generally has received the best reviews. Some reviewers of the subsequent novels have criticized them for becoming pedantic and dogmatic. Does a more informed person have any views on these dark matters?

1. I know, the book first appeared in 1995 and the character’s name likely comes from the word for “cutter.” I just found it funny to see a blonde religious fanatic villain with this particular name.