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Last Updated: Friday, 7 December 2007, 11:32 GMT
Review: The Golden Compass

By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Chris Weitz's The Golden Compass, is a competent fantasy tale, but fails to recapture the magic of Philip Pullman's book Northern Lights.

The Golden Compass has been the subject of hype ever since it was revealed the book was heading to the big screen.

Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belaqua
Only Lyra, played by Dakota Blue Richards, can read the alethiometer

Not since Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia has one fantasy film created so much internet buzz.

The Golden Compass is undeniably eyecatching. The surreal wintry landscapes and stunning visual effects perfectly capture Pullman's imaginary world.

In that world people wear their souls on the outside of their bodies, in the form of animals - known as daemons - that accompany them everywhere.

It is these daemons - Mrs Coulter's golden monkey, Lord Asriel's snow leopard and Lyra's shape-shifting Pantalaimon - that are sure to charm children.

The cast too, is first class. Daniel Craig is dashing as the aloof Lord Asriel, and Nicole Kidman plays the icily cool Mrs Coulter to chilling perfection.

Newcomer Dakota Blue Richards is engaging as wild child Lyra - the young girl destined to save her people from an awful, but yet unknown fate.

It is a big film to carry on 12-year-old shoulders, and Dakota - who appears in almost every scene - does it with impish aplomb.


At its core, The Golden Compass is a great romp of an adventure.

Lyra, who believes she is an orphan, is raised by dry academic dons in the dusty corridors of a parallel-world Oxford college.

They are unable to contain Lyra's lively spirit. She and Pantalaimon scamper on rooftops amid the dreaming spires, and plot war with the local street urchins.

Nicole Kidman as Mrs Coulter
Nicole Kidman shines as the chilling Mrs Coulter

But there are rumours of a sinister group called the Gobblers who steal children to conduct mysterious experiments on their daemons in the depths of the frozen North Pole.

And when Lyra's friend Roger disappears, the ever-loyal girl vows to travel North and rescue him.

Using a truth-telling device called an alethiometer that only she can read, Lyra teams up with a white witch called Serafina Pekkala, Texan aeronaut cowboy Lee Scoresby, and an armoured polar bear by the name of Iorek Byrnison, voiced ferociously by Sir Ian McKellan.

Parts of the film are unnecessarily chatty, and go to great lengths to explain what is going on. Admittedly, for those who have not read the book, it may be a necessary evil.

Ultimately cinema audiences will be divided. For some the film will be near miss, for others a close hit, but it's clear Weitz left much of the magic on the page.

Regardless, it's likely to be a goldmine at the box office this Christmas.

The Golden Compass comes out in the US on 7 December and is currently on release in the UK.

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