The Golden Compass (2007) dir. Chris Weitz
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green
New Line pumped in $180million into this film with the intention of making two others parts to the trilogy. With only a meager $70million from the North American box office, part 2 and 3 appeared dead. Apparently the film world revolves around the U.S. Box Office, because foreign receipts pulled in a highly respectable $300 million and it would be a shame if New Line doesn’t consider the film a success. The fact is, the expectations on the film and the series were much too high. Though it doesn’t reach the mythic level of storytelling of LOTR, it’s as good as Narnia and arguably the later Potter films.
“The Golden Compass” exists in a parallel world to Earth, one where humans live symbiotically with their own personal ‘daemon’ – that is, a companion animal that represents the person’s soul. Daniel Craig plays Lord Asriel, a nobleman who has discovered evidence of a magical substance called “Dust” which, according to legend, can allow travelers to move in between these parallel worlds (ie. to Earth). Asriel embarks on a journey to the North Pole to find these secrets. But he is continually fought against by The Magisterium, a despotic organization that serves to protect society against these unknown mythical worlds.
With Asriel off on his journey, he entrusts his niece Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) to the company of her boarding school. But Lyra is unknowingly roped into the adventure when she is taken by the mysterious Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) on her own journey to the North. When Coulter’s nefarious motives are revealed Lyra escapes into the company of a group of wandering bandit warriors, called Gyptians. In order to reunite with her Uncle, Lyra enlists the help of a disgraced ‘daemon’ Polar Bear, Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Gandolf McKellan) and hot witch named Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green) to fight the evil army.
The fantasy genre is already bloated with too many franchise wannabes, like "The Seeker", or "The Spiderwick Chronicles", and Compass, like most others of its kind, is unoriginal its set-up – a prophesy is fulfilled by a young child, who discovers powers adults don’t have and has to go on long journey to save the world etc etc. Of course, "Compass" is a genre film and does have a few key elements which separate it from the pack.
Perhaps the most interesting characters are the mysterious Magisterium who are the not-too-disguised Catholic Church of this parallel world. In the press, much was made of this comparison, but I saw it specifically as a parallel Spanish Inquisition. Like those doubting Thomases the religious power of the Magisterium is threatened by free-thinkers’ scientific exploration of the universe, with Asriel as its Copernicus or Galileo. Political allegories make for better and deeper viewing experiences and in this case, it’s a warning against ruling with absolute power.
It’s difficult to say how much influence the Christian (or Catholic) right had on the U.S. box office, but the backlash against the film was fierce. The film ends on a cliff hangar, and knowing the possibility of the series never getting past episode one, it's a frustrating tease. Lyra’s entry into the other world, the discovery of the magical powers of the dust and Daniel Craig's showdown with her nemesis Nicole Kidman may never come to fruition. It’s a shame if we don’t get to see the sequels because of a few lobbyists
"The Golden Compass" arrives on DVD this week with a chance to become the success it didn't get in the U.S. box office. Enjoy.