Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and a remarkable young actress named Dakota Blue Richards, star in this adaptation of writer Philip Pullman's first book in "His Dark Materials" trilogy.
This $150 million fantasy adventure directed by Chris Weltz (About A Boy) has had a lot of pre-release controversy. It's causing a stir because of the author's atheism and the way his books question organized religion. Weitz seems to have helped with the problem by omitting overt references to Christianity.
The world of The Golden Compass is filled with strange characters, CG images and humans all co-existing, however, sometimes not very peaceably. Humans have deamons which are with them everywhere they travel. These daemons are in the form of talking animals, which can change at will into another animal.
Young Lyra (Richards) has a ferret who whispers words of caution into her ear, but the brave girl usually doesn't listen and takes off on dangerous journeys.
Twelve year-old Lyra is an orphan who lives at Oxford College with other children in similar circumstances. Her scientist uncle, Lord Asriel (Craig) makes infrequent visits as he's regularly off on some adventure or another.
He leaves Lyra to look for golden dust at the Arctic Circle. Lyra soon discovers that some of her friends are being kidnapped by a group called the Magisterium, and she sneaks out of the orphanage taking with her a Golden Compass that is given to her to help on her quest.
The compass can truthfully answer any questions that its asked. All the owner has to do is decipher its workings and the answer is theirs, which makes it a very desirable possession. Tthe Magisterium is after the compass as is the wicked Mrs. Coulter (Kidman).
There's a great deal to keep track of here. Beside a complex storyline and numerous settings there are dozens of characters. A good witch (Eva Green), a group of pirate-types, gyptians, a cowboy-attired balloon pilot (Sam Elliot), and Lorek the giant talking polar bear, whose ferocious roar ends up being more frightening that his bite, who becomes Lyra's protector.
The acting is effective, especially Richards, who is poised beyond her years. The CG is a mixed bag, demons are fake looking, especially Mrs. Couiter's monkey, but the bears are quite realistic. There are many fights scenes, some of which are quite violent, so younger kids should be cautioned, but older kids and adults will probably enjoy this mystical fantasy on many levels.