Being one of the few people who have not read the original book (The Golden Compass or Northern Lights as it was published in the UK) I came to this premier with a blank canvas. Several of my learned friends have waxed lyrical about how the book is magnificent and they could not wait for the film to be made. Without offending my core readership, I have always had a distaste for adults ( anyone over 35?) who read Harry Potter books or those written by Philip Pullman. I guess it is too much of the snob in me to take these kids books as serious works of art, BUT I should probably read them before I criticise. My defence is that I’m a films specialist; I’d much rather watch a film than read a book designed for a twelve year old. So how about a film designed for a twelve year old? Anyone who reads this blog will know that I have no problem there.
The film is very clever in premise set in an alternate reality (which recognises our own) that visually is a steam punks fantasy come true. A mix of Victorian England, 1920’s fashion, and modern day gadgetry that makes for exciting cinematography. The main rule in this world that will keep younger audiences enthralled is that each human exhibits there "sole" outside there body, in the form of an animal that changes shape until the child becomes an adult. The sole is another character which interacts with a physical presence, and any harm on either effects the other instantly. The heroine of the story is Lyra an orphan (there are so many in kids literature) that is destined to follow a prophecy that involves saving the world from a great war. (Ooooh master Harry….erm sorry). The world they live in is run by the "Magisterium" a thinly veiled reference to organised religion which is seeking to control all free thought in the world.
When Lyra’s best friend is kidnapped by the powers that be, and a plot to remove children from their shape changing demons is discovered a quest begins. Nicole Kidman adds some flavour as the elegantly dressed and thoroughly evil guardian of the Magisterium and Daniel Craig as Lyra’s uncle Lord Asriel already shows that Bond is going to typecast him for a while. The film is full of action loved my the kids, and the action scenes are fantastic.
A cornucopia of character actors add some excellent and much needed gravitas to a film that is very much about performance rather than film substance. Sam Elliot is excellent ( tell me when he isn’t) as a Cowboy come sky pirate, and Ian McKellan’s unmistakable voice makes a the polar bear warrior come to life. The film’s ending is well realised and (I am told once more) is in keeping with the spirit of the book, but I would have to say that for a film reviewer and not a book lover I was left feeling there are more questions than answers, and the sequel needs to be made to get some dramatic conclusion. (How Daniel Craig will cope with two franchises one will never know)
I admit it was thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable and the performance of new comer Dakota Blue Richards is excellent. I hope we have an English Dakota Fanning, although future projects will reveal the answer. This is an Xmas flick in the finest tradition, and it would be wrong to give a bad review as we have a good feel good, and I am glad to say thought provoking film. It may leave some saying where is thast fifteen minutes, but Lord of the rings, Star Wars, and all those trilogies have been better for it.
Perhaps I might buy the book, and give it a more adult dust cover.
Watch the first five minutes below as well
best of love