Reel Deal: Golden Compass lacks direction

Under normal circumstances, I do not talk about religion (and I really don’t intend to here) but I do believe in respecting a person’s right to worship, or not, whom they choose. So, on some level, I’m always somewhat surprised when there is a uproar about a different way of thinking or believing.

I have never heard of Philip Pullman’s 1995 trilogy “His Dark Materials” until recently. I saw the movie trailer for “The Golden Compass” (the first of the set, followed by “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass”) a few months ago and thought it looked like a pretty movie to see. I’m attracted to dazzling colors and lights.

Then I started hearing about protests for the movie and trying to stop production of it because the author of the novel is an atheist and put some of his theories on religion in the book. After that, a family member got an e-mail imploring her not to go see “The Golden Compass”, and to send the e-mail to as many people as possible so they miss the movie also.

Naturally, because of said controversy, I had to go see it. I must admit to being disappointed. The elements of this movie could push a few buttons, but it plays it very safe. It takes place on an alternative Earth which is controlled by the Magisterium, which I think might have been a religious institution in the book, but in the movie just looked like some type of government.

The Gobblers, in association with the Magisterium, are snatching up poor children in order to perform Intercisions, which is a process that removes their daemons.

In this universe, each person has a daemon, an animal that is an extension of one’s self. In childhood, the daemons shape-shift until they reach adulthood.

The heroine of this story, Lyra Belacqua’s (Dakota Blue Richards) daemon is a ferret, a cat and a moth (Or was it a butterfly? It was hard to tell). They represent her spirit, a strong fluttery little thing who is extremely curious of the world around her.

That curiosity leads her to a closet where she overhears her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) talking about wanting to find Dust. The movie isn’t clear what exactly is it, but book wise, Dust is a mysterious spiritual substance that might be the cause of all human misery. Or it might be the opposite. Or something.

You know, this movie wasn’t very clear on many things. I’m sure they might clean it up for the next two installments, but it was off to a bad start.

From what I understood, Lyra went off to rescue her friend Roger, (Ben Walker) who was kidnapped by the Gobblers and sent to a place in the Artic. Before she went off, she was given an Alethiometer, or a Golden Compass, that tells the truth of all things. Few can read it, and there is a prophecy out there regarding Lyra and the fate of the world.

Somewhere in the plot is the Dust concept, but I still haven’t figured it out. Guess I’ll have to read the book. (Can I just add I am so tired of people adapting novels into movies? I have a reading list two miles long.)

Since it’s a prophecy regarding the fate of the world (and the Magisterium having full power), the movie is filled with dangers for Lyra and her companions including the defeated armored bear Iorek Byrnison.

I spent most of the movie wishing she would play around more with the Golden Compass and they would explain about Dust. Then I spent the rest wondering two things: How “The Golden Compass” became so controversial and how a polar bear could get armor on. I’m still thinking about both.

I gave this film a C-.

Dedra Cordle is a Messenger staff writer.

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