Writer: Wee Li HuiWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"The Chronicles Of Narnia", "Harry Potter", "Earthsea", "MirrorMask".
You walk into a shop and pick up a lovely little book called "The Northern Lights" by Philip Pullman and more than a decade later, it gets blown up to gigantic proportions on the big screen. That's just the magic of Hollywood.
The delicious little story of "The Northern Lights" a.k.a "The Golden Compass" centres on young Lyra Belacqua. She is an orphan who lives happily in Jordan College, playing with local boys and terrorising professors. However, when Lyra overhears a plot against her uncle, Lord Asriel, on account of a mysterious substance called Dust, her curiosity is roused. Soon Lyra is in over her head, uncovering a frightening plot and a whole new world of possibilities...
But that's just a miniscule bit of the story, a speck of dust (ha!) compared to the magnitude of the actual thing. The truth is, we are now brought in a world very different from the one we know. Here the North is ruled by Ice Bears, the skies are ruled by Witches, the seas are ruled by Gyptians (a cross between pirates and gypsies) and EVERYTHING is ruled by the Magisterium. In this world, the soul is not trapped in bodies but roams by their sides as magical creatures called daemons. Perhaps this is where the hullabaloo of a Christianity controversy came about with the book. However this is kept to a bare minimum and only those who take offence should only comprise of "Harry Potter" and "Narnia" fans.
Having made so many comparisons to "Narnia", I must say that this is not a kiddie movie. Despite having a much younger main character, the movie tackles real life issues like oppression, tyranny and freewill. It defies common belief and typical fantasy movies by creating a world where science, theology and magic are closely intertwined. In short, one might say that "The Golden Compass" does what J.K. Rowling lacks the brains to, what C.S. Lewis lacks the balls to and what Dave McKean (director of "MirrorMask") lacked the budget to.
It is a must-watch for the distinct and colourful characters featured in the film, namely Pan, Lyra's daemon and my personal favourite. Voiced by Freddie Highmore of "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory", he brings colour into the shots with an adorable childlike humour. Another one of my favourites (so that people don't think this is just filled with sissy animals) is the armoured polar bear, Iorek Byrnison. Who would expect that 69-year-old Ian McKellen could play such a strong character? Another very colourful character is Lee Scoresby, a cowboy aeronaut. Here Sam Elliott does what he does best - being a cowboy, but now he does so in a peculiar hot air balloon!
When I say characters, I don't mean just pretty things to merely exist like in "Narnia" but actual well-developed personalities.
The movie reunites Daniel Craig and Eva Green but thankfully, they are not shagging each other. Although they hardly get any screen time but in the few brief moments that they do, they do it splendidly.
Truthfully, when watching the trailers the first thought that crossed my mind was - is Nicole Kidman really going to be playing an evil officer? I just knew that Kidman couldn't be bad and I was right! But the director has skillfully taken care of that. All the dirty work is done by Nicole Kidman's daemon because evil is projected by in a vile golden monkey. Nicole Kidman's soul is something viewers are guaranteed to absolutely loathe and abhor. The one problem I have with her here is that in most of her scenes her eyes are always red. Perhaps those piercing blue contacts are more irritating than expected, but really, that's no excuse.
All in all, I have no complaints - excellent storyline, acting, effects and cinematography. But do expect this to only be an exploratory movie, paving the way for its sequels "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass". It has built up a lot of steam and potential for Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" as a movie franchise. Despite the promotional angle, please don't compare it to "The Lord Of The Rings" because it's not in the same category. However, be forewarned that it is a trilogy so don't go in there expecting a "Narnia" or a "Harry Potter" because the story will dangle. I learnt that one the hard way.Cinema Online, 23 September 2008