The Golden Compass is a 2007 British-American fantasy-adventure film based on Northern Lights, the first novel in Philip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials. Written and directed by Chris Weitz, it stars Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Tom Courtenay, Christopher Lee, Nicole Kidman and Sam Elliott. The project was announced in February 2002, but difficulties over the script and the selection of a director caused significant delays. At US$180 million, it was one of New Line Cinema's most expensive projects ever, and its disappointing results in the USA contributed to New Line's February 2008 restructuring.
The film depicts the adventures of Lyra Belacqua, an orphan living in a parallel universe on a world that looks much like our own. In Lyra's world, a dogmatic ruling power called the Magisterium opposes free inquiry. Poor, orphan, and Gyptian children are disappearing at the hands of a group the children call the Gobblers. When Lyra discovers that Mrs. Coulter is running the Gobblers, she flees. Rescued by the Gyptians, Lyra joins them on a trip to the far north, to the land of the armored polar bears, in search of the missing children.
Before its release, the film received criticism from secularist organisations and fans of His Dark Materials for the dilution of elements of the story which were critical of religion, as well as from some religious organisations for the source material's anti-Catholic themes. The studio ordered significant changes late in post-production, which Weitz later called a "terrible" experience. Although the film's visual effects (which Weitz has called the film's "most successful element") won both a BAFTA and an Academy Award, critical reception was mixed and revenue lower than anticipated.
The story takes place in an alternate world dominated by a powerful church called the Magisterium, and where part of the soul resides outside a person as an animal companion called a dæmon. Lyra Belacqua, an orphan raised in a college in Oxford, England, and her dæmon Pantalaimon (Pan) witness a Magisterium agent poison her uncle's bottle of Tokay wine. Lyra then warns her uncle, Lord Asriel, who instructs her to remain in hiding. Lyra watches Asriel give a presentation regarding Dust, a particle that the Magisterium has forbidden the mention of. The college gives Asriel a grant to fund a northern expedition.
At dinner, Lyra meets Mrs. Coulter, who insists on taking Lyra north as her assistant. Before Lyra leaves, the Master of the college entrusts her with the only remaining alethiometer, a compass-like artifact that reveals the truth. The Magisterium has destroyed all the others. He instructs her to keep it secret, especially from Mrs. Coulter.
At Mrs. Coulter's house in a city that resembles a futuristic London, Lyra mentions 'dust'. This puts Mrs. Coulter on edge and she warns Lyra never to mention it again, and also insists that she leave the bag containing the aleithiometer. Mrs. Coulter's dæmon (a golden monkey) attacks Pan, causing Lyra to give in. Lyra and Pan discover that Mrs. Coulter is head of the General Oblation Board, the "Gobblers", who have been kidnapping local children. She also discovers that her best friend Roger and her Gyptian friend Billy have been taken by the Gobblers.
Lyra and Pan walk in on Mrs. Coulter's dæmon attempting to steal the alethiometer. They escape into the streets. The "Gobblers" pursue her, but she is saved by some Gyptians. Aboard a Gyptian boat heading north to rescue their children, Lyra shows the alethiometer to a Gyptian wise elder, Farder Coram. On deck that night Serafina Pekkala, the witch queen, tells Lyra that the missing children are in a place called Bolvangar. Mrs. Coulter sends two mechanical spy flies after Lyra. One is batted away but the other is caught and sealed in a can by Farder Coram, who explains that the spy fly has a sting with a sleeping poison. Lord Asriel is captured by Samoyed tribesmen hired by Mrs. Coulter but he bribes his captors into releasing him.
At a northern port, Lyra is befriended by a Texan aeronaut named Lee Scoresby, who advises her to hire an armoured bear. Exiled in shame, the giant polar bear Iorek Byrnison has been tricked out of his armour by the local townspeople. Using the alethiometer Lyra tells Iorek where to find his armour. Armoured again, the fearsome Iorek and his friend Lee Scoresby join the trek northward.
That night while riding on Iorek's back, Lyra finds a cowering and changed Billy separated from his dæmon Ratter. Lyra reunites Billy with his mother just as the group is attacked by Samoyeds who capture Lyra. Taken to the armoured bear king Ragnar Sturlusson, Lyra tricks him into fighting Iorek one on one. At first, Ragnar seems to have the upper hand in the fight, but Iorek eventually tricks his rival and kills him. He then becomes the new king. Iorek carries Lyra near to a thin ice bridge near Bolvangar. Reaching the station, Lyra is taken to eat with the missing children. While hiding again Lyra discovers that the Magisterium scientists, under the guidance of Mrs. Coulter, are performing experiments to sever the bond between a child and his or her dæmon. Caught spying, Lyra and Pan are thrown in the intercision chamber, and end up unconscious from the energy force that tries to cut them. On seeing Lyra in the chamber, Mrs. Coulter rescues her and takes her to her quarters.
When Lyra wakes up she is comforted by a distraught Mrs. Coulter, who explains the dæmon cutting to Lyra and also tells Lyra that she is her mother. Lyra then guesses that Lord Asriel is her father. When Mrs. Coulter asks for the alethiometer, Lyra gives her the can containing the spy fly. The fly stings Mrs. Coulter, knocking her and her dæmon out. Lyra runs to the room with the intercision machine. The growing chain reaction builds as Lyra yanks a control box loose and hurls it into the intercision machine, causing it to explode. This sets off a series of explosions that tear the facility apart.
Outside, the children are attacked by Tartar mercenaries and their wolf dæmons. The battle is joined by Iorek, the Gyptians, and a band of flying witches led by Serafina Pekkala. The Tartars are defeated and the children are rescued. Rather than returning south, Lyra, Roger and Iorek fly north with Lee Scoresby in search of Lord Asriel.
Unaware that he is in mortal danger, Lord Asriel has set up a laboratory to investigate the glowing Dust from another world.
- Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua
- Freddie Highmore as the voice of Pantalaimon
- Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter
- Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel
- Sam Elliott as Lee Scoresby
- Ian McKellen as the voice of Iorek Byrnison
- Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala
- Ian McShane as the voice of Ragnar Sturlusson
- Kathy Bates as the voice of Hester
- Kristin Scott Thomas as the voice of Stelmaria
- Ben Walker as Roger Parslow
- Jim Carter as John Faa
- Tom Courtenay as Farder Coram
- Christopher Lee and Edward de Souza as The Magisterium
- Simon McBurney as Fra PavelJack Shepherd as master of Jordan College.
- Magda Szubanski as Mrs. Lonsdale
- Derek Jacobi as the Magisterial Emissary.
- Clare Higgins as Ma Costa
- Charlie Rowe as Billy Costa
On February 11, 2002, following the success of New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the studio bought the rights to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In July 2003 Tom Stoppard was commissioned to write the screenplay. Directors Brett Ratner and Sam Mendes expressed interest in the film, but a year later, Chris Weitz was hired to direct after approaching the studio with an unsolicited 40-page treatment. The studio rejected the script, asking Weitz to start from scratch. Since Weitz was a fan of Stoppard, he decided not to read the adaptation in case he "subconsciously poached things from him." After delivering his script, Weitz cited Barry Lyndon and Star Wars as stylistic influences on the film. In 2004, Weitz was invited by The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson onto the set of King Kong in order to gather information on directing a blockbuster film, and to receive advice on dealing with New Line Cinema, for whom Jackson had worked on Lord of the Rings. After a subsequent interview in which Weitz said the novel's attacks on organised religion would have to be softened, he was criticised by some fans, and on December 15, 2004, Weitz announced his resignation as director of the trilogy, citing the enormous technical challenges of the epic. He later indicated that he had envisioned the possibility of being denounced by both the book's fans and its detractors, as well as a studio hoping for another Lord of the Rings.
On August 9, 2005, it was announced that British director Anand Tucker would take over from Weitz. Tucker felt the film would thematically be about Lyra "looking for a family", and Pullman agreed: "He has plenty of very good ideas, and he isn't daunted by the technical challenges. But the best thing from the point of view of all who care about the story is his awareness that it isn't about computer graphics; it isn't about fantastic adventures in amazing-looking worlds; it's about Lyra." Tucker resigned on May 8, 2006, citing creative disagreements with New Line, and Weitz returned to direct. Weitz said "I'm both the first and third director on the film ..but I did a lot of growing in the interim."
According to producer Deborah Forte, Tucker wanted to make a smaller, less exciting film than New Line wanted. New Line production president Toby Emmerich said of Weitz's return: "I think Chris realized that if he didn’t come back in and step up, maybe the movie wasn’t going to get made ... We really didn’t have a Plan B at that point." Weitz was attracted back to the project after receiving a letter from Pullman asking him to reconsider. Since his departure, blueprints, production design and visual effects strategies had been put into position, and while Weitz admitted that his fears did not vanish, the project suddenly seemed feasible for the director.
Filming began at Shepperton Studios on September 4, 2006, with additional sequences shot in Switzerland and Norway. Filming also took place at the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, Chiswick House in London, and in Radcliffe Square, Christ Church, Oxford, Exeter College, Oxford, The Queen's College, Oxford, The Historic Dockyard Chatham and Hedsor House in Buckinghamshire.
Production Designer Dennis Gassner says of his work on the film: “The whole project is about translation – translation from something you would understand into something that is in a different vernacular. So, it’s a new signature, looking into another world that seems familiar but is still unique. There’s a term I use – called 'cludging' – it’s taking one element and combining it with another element to make something new. It’s a hybrid or amalgamation, and that’s what this movie is about from a design perspective. It’s about amalgamating ideas and concepts and theoretical and physical environments.”
Rhythm and Hues Studios created the main dæmons, and Framestore CFC created all the bears. British company Cinesite created the secondary dæmons.
Alexandre Desplat composed the soundtrack to the film. Singer Kate Bush wrote and recorded the track "Lyra" which is played over the end credits.
Differences from the novel
Numerous scenes from the novel did not feature in the film or were markedly changed. On December 7, 2007, New York Magazine reviewed draft scripts from both Stoppard and Weitz; both were significantly longer than the final version, and Weitz's draft (which, unlike Stoppard's, did not feature significant additions to the source material) was pronounced the best of the three. The magazine concluded that instead of a "likely three hours of running time" that included such scenes as Mrs. Coulter's London party and Lyra's meeting with a witch representative, the studio had opted for a "failed" length of under two hours in order to maximise revenue.
On October 9, 2007, Weitz revealed that the final three chapters from Northern Lights had been moved to the film's potential sequel, The Subtle Knife, in order to provide "the most promising conclusion to the first film and the best possible beginning to the second," though he also said less than a month later that there had been "tremendous marketing pressure" to create "an upbeat ending." (The San Francisco Chronicle found this "truncated" ending abrupt.) Author Pullman publicly supported these changes, saying that "every film has to make changes to the story that the original book tells — not to change the outcome, but to make it fit the dimensions and the medium of film". In addition to removing the novel's unsettling ending, the film reverses the order in which Lyra travels to Bolvangar, the Gobbler's outpost, and then Svalbard, the armoured bears' kingdom. (Neither deviation from the book features in Scholastic Publishing's The Golden Compass: The Story of the Movie novelization.) In July 2009, Weitz told a Comic Con audience that the film had been "recut by [New Line], and my experience with it ended being quite a terrible one”; he also told Time.com that he had felt that by "being faithful to the book I was working at odds with the studio". In 2011, Pullman told an audience at the British Humanist Association annual conference that he was also disappointed by this decision, and hoped that a director's cut of the film would be released some day including the footage cut by New Line.
In the book the Jordan College Master reluctantly poisons Lord Asriel's wine; in the film a visiting Magisterium official undertakes (more willingly) this action. The alethiometer is mentioned multiple times throughout the film as a "golden compass".
Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club argued that through the use of a spoken introduction and other exposition-filled dialogue, the film fails by "baldly revealing up front everything that the novel is trying to get you to wonder about and to explore slowly". Youyoung Lee wrote in a December 2007 Entertainment Weekly that the film "leaves out the gore", such as the book's ritualistic heart-eating that concludes the bear fight, "to create family-friendlier fare". Lee also said that the film "downplays the Magisterium's religious nature", but Robinson argued that the depiction of the Church in the film is as "a hierarchical organization of formally robed, iconography-heavy priests who dictate and define morality for their followers, are based out of cathedrals, and decry teachings counter to theirs as 'heresy.'...doing ugly things to children under cover of secrecy". Robinson then asks, "Who are most people going to think of besides the Catholic Church?" The film gives more prominence to scenes showing the Magisterium officials' perspective than the novel. The novel rarely mentions explicitly the Magisterium's intentions, relying on the gossip of others, and the comments of Mrs. Coulter.
Although the character of Mrs. Coulter has black hair in the novel, Pullman responded to the blonde Kidman's portrayal by saying "I was clearly wrong. You sometimes are wrong about your characters. She's blonde. She has to be."
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats in the United Kingdom on April 28, 2008 and the United States on April 29, 2008. The movie is closed-captioned by the National Captioning Institute on its first Home Video release. The extra material on the single-disc DVD consists of previews of upcoming New Line Cinema films. The two-disc edition includes a commentary from writer/director Chris Weitz, eleven "making-of" featurettes, a photo gallery, and theatrical and teaser trailers. The Blu-ray disc features the same extras from the two-disc DVD edition. Exclusive to Blu-ray Disc is Visual Commentary Picture-in-Picture feature which enables users to view behind the scene feature while watching the movie.
Shortly before the film's release, Weitz suggested that an extended cut of the film could be released on DVD, saying "I'd really love to do a fuller cut of the film"; he further speculated that such a version "could probably end up at two and a half hours." This proposed cut would presumably not include the original ending: MTV reported in December 2007 that Weitz hoped to include that material at the beginning of a possible The Subtle Knife adaptation, and that a Compass Director's Cut might feature "a moment" of it as a "teaser". Cast members Craig and Green have echoed this hope for such a DVD cut; so far, however, no official announcement has been made.
- Main article: The Golden Compass (video game)
The video game for this film was released in November 2007 in Europe and December 2007 in North America and Australia for the PC, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, and the Xbox 360. It was developed by Shiny Entertainment and published by Sega.
Players take control of the characters Lyra Belacqua and Iorek Byrnison in Lyra's attempt to save her friend Roger from the General Oblation Board. As this game does not fully take into account the changes made by the final version of the film, a small amount of footage from the film's deleted ending can be viewed near the end of the game, and the order in which Lyra travels to Bolvangar and Svalbard follows the book and not the film.
At the time of The Golden Compass' theatrical release, Chris Weitz pledged to "protect [the] integrity" of the prospective sequels by being "much less compromising" in the book-to-film adaptation process. New Line Cinema commissioned Hossein Amini to write a screenplay based on the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, potentially for release in 2010 or 2011, with the third book of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, to follow. However, New Line president Toby Emmerich stressed that production of the second and third films was dependent on the financial success of The Golden Compass. When The Golden Compass did not meet expectations at the United States box office, the likelihood of a sequel was downplayed by New Line. According to studio co-head Michael Lynne, "The jury is still very much out on the movie, and while it's performed very strongly overseas we'll look at it early 2008 and see where we're going with a sequel."
In February 2008, Weitz told The Daily Yomiuri, a Japanese newspaper, that he still hoped for the sequels' production: "at first it looked like we were down for the count because in the U.S. [the film] underperformed, but then internationally it performed [better] than expectations. So, a lot depends on Japan, frankly... I think if it does well enough here we'll be in good shape for that." Although producer Deborah Forte had, in March 2008, expressed optimism that the sequels would be made, by October 2008, the two planned sequels were officially placed on hold, according to New Line Cinema, because of financial concerns during the global recession. Sam Elliott, however, stated, "The Catholic Church ... lambasted them, and I think it scared New Line off."
In 2011, Philip Pullman remarked at the British Humanist Association annual conference that there were not going to be any more films from the series made with the same cast.
- The Golden Compass at AllMovie
- The Golden Compass at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Golden Compass at Metacritic
- The Golden Compass at Box Office Mojo
- Book Vs. Film: The Golden Compass by The A.V. Club
- The Golden Compass Production Notes