DVD Release Date:  April 29, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  December 7, 2007
Rating:  PG-13 (for sequences of fantasy violence)
Genre:  Action Adventure/Family
Run Time:  113 minutes
Director:  Chris Weitz
Actors:  Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Ben Walker, Freddie Highmore, Ian McKellen, Eva Green, Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay, Ian McShane, Sam Elliott, Derek Jacobi

Witches are our friends … little girls can lie to anyone as long as it is for the “right” cause … “daemons” are our friends (and souls) and take the form of animals.  These are some of the lessons we learn in The Golden Compass.

A lot of controversy surrounds the movie, which is based on Philip Pullman’s widely read trilogy, His Dark Materials.  But is this big-budget film (estimated at $150 million plus) a fun, family experience or a pied-piper of atheism in disguise?

Granted, The Golden Compass has lots of compelling elements.  Big stars like Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, and Ian McKellen.  The plot is interesting, and it has first-rate, absolutely gorgeous effects and CG scenery. The sets and wardrobes are award-winning quality.  The musical score perfectly compliments the action.  Sound effects are seamless and believable, and the story is entertaining.  So what’s the problem here?  Will The Golden Compass lead millions of young readers/viewers astray?  Possibly. 

It begins with the movie’s opening line:  “There are millions of galaxies with many races of people. Some have their souls inside their bodies; others have their souls walk beside them.  We are those people.  Our souls take on the form of animals that we call daemons.”

In the story, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is a pre-teen girl who’s a handful, to say the least.  She’s strong-willed, amazingly brave and resourceful.  Lyra is raised under the care of the scholars of Jordan College in a world that is greatly influenced by the Magisterium, a religious order that is clearly a thinly-veiled play on Catholicism and some Protestant churches.

The Magisterium basically rules the planet with the idea of “controlling” the general public and protecting it from unhealthy thinking and practices. Everyone in the movie has an animal “daemon” with them. Some animals can speak to their people and are cute and cuddly, and some are tiger-like or even reptilian. Young animals can shape-shift into any creature they want until the person becomes an adult.

Lyra and Pantalaimon (her daemon—mostly in the form of a ferret-like creature) are friends with a handsome scientist, Lord Asriel (Craig) who is on a quest to discover the source of “dust”—a magical golden powder that he has seen in his journeys and may be the key to other dimensions and civilizations.  The Magisterium have, until now, squashed all knowledge of “dust” from the general populace and frantically try to stop Asriel.

Lyra comes into possession of a strange and beautiful metaphysical compass that acts as a lie detector, as well as a mirror, into the near-future. Beautiful Mrs. Coulter (Kidman) requests from the Magisterium that she be allowed to take Lyra on a journey to the icy north to meet the Polar Bear Warriors.  Soon Lyra realizes that Mrs. Coulter and her creepy monkey daemon are not nice creatures and decides to make a break for it and find the now missing, presumed lost, Lord Asriel on her own.  She is helped by some mysterious, pirate-like gypsies called Gyptians, who are on a quest to find out what is happening to all the disappearing children (they suspect a group called “Gobblers").