The Golden Compass – Film Review

Well it's here at last. The film of the first book of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. So it is worth seeing? Will it destroy the faith of the nation? Is this another successful blow from the atheists in our midst?

Possibly. No. Not really.

On the whole the film is enjoyable and a successful adaptation of the book (published as Northern Lights in the UK). I found it better paced than the novel (where I got bored with the interminable travels across frozen wastes) and it keeps more or less to the original plot. The film isn't as intriguing - partly this is because having read the book, some of the mystery is lost for ever, but Pullman's alternative vocabulary (anbaric, chthonic) isn't used at all, and in films we are more used to fantasy worlds that look vaguely like our own.

The dialogue was a bit stilted, despite the best efforts of the actors. Nicole Kidman is almost type cast - her usual coldness and lack of emotional depth means she is perfect as Mrs Coulter. But in the film Mrs Coulter is far less ambiguous than in the book - there is no doubt from the very beginning that she is a baddie on the wrong side, whereas the book at times allows the possibility of her being a baddie on the right side, or a goodie who has to show tough love in tough times.

Daniel Craig is, well, Daniel Craig. There are definitely parallels between Lord Asriel and James Bond, so he isn't out of place. The young cast are good on the whole, with Dakota Blue Richards impressing as Lyra. Some of the stars who lent their voices are a bit wasted, with the exception of Sir Ian McKellen, who is masterful as Iorek Byrnison.

The ending of the film is something of a non event - the screen goes blank, and you are not sure if you are going to see an epilogue or the credits rolling. It is the latter. If it were a TV series, there would have been "Next week on His Dark Materials...", but there wasn't this option for the film. This does tend to leave a rather unsatisfactory feeling.

The film (unlike the book) doesn't mention God or the church - it only features 'The Magisterium'. So it is atheistic in the sense of not having any reference to God, but this is hardly unusual in contemporary film releases. Possibly the film touches more of a nerve for Roman Catholics (who seem to be the most exercised about this release), but I'm a low church Anglican reviewing this primarily for other Fulcrumesque Anglicans!

When I read the books, I was expecting Pullman to reach some grand climax where he would reveal the dramatic truth about the non-existence of God, and was bitterly disappointed when he seemed to bottle out of doing this. On the basis of this film, this build up and (anti-)climax isn't even going to be a feature of the trilogy. And if Pullman is saying that power without morality - church without the Spirit - is a bad thing, then I'm the first to put my hand up in support.

The film has a PG (Parental Guidance) certificate, which means it is judged suitable for most children over eight to watch unaccompanied. The plot is probably not that interesting to children under eleven who haven't read and enjoyed the books. I continue to be amazed at the level of casual violence that is deemed acceptable for quite young children - the body count in this film is not insignificant.

If you are worried about the effect of modern media on the faith of your children, then there are far more pressing dangers to which they are exposed and issues on which we should be campaigning than this film and Philip Pullman's books. And if they want to see The Golden Compass and read the books - let them, and then talk to them about what they think.

In my opinion, by far the best of the three books is the second, The Subtle Knife, and I look forward to how this is brought to the big screen.

More details at the Internet Movie Database.

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