The Golden Compass movie review

Have you ever had an experience where you see a trailer for a movie and formed an assumption about said film and then when you actually saw it, it’s nothing like you expected?  That’s  exactly what happened to me when I saw The Golden Compass.

The trailer I kept seeing for The Golden Compass is perhaps once of the worst cut trailers I’ve ever seen.  Being a fan of film editing (I edited the scenes in Pulp Fiction into chronological order for fun), this is something I look closely at.  The very concept of editing a movie into just a few seconds is daunting and I understand it’s not the same thing of taking hours of footage and assembling it into a film.  There has to be a ton of voices for a trailer editor to listen to:  the director, the producers, other studio execs and marketing people who all want things accomplished with this commercial for their movie.  But when it comes to the The Golden Compass, they blew it.  Badly.

So you watch the trailer and think, “OK, this movie is about a little girl who has a golden compass and hangs out with polar bears.  And Nicole Kidman wants the golden compass for some nefarious purpose… probably.  There sure seem to be a lot of polar bears in this movie!  Guess I’ll have to see it to figure out what all these damn polar bears in clothes have to do with that golden compass/little girl/ Nicole Kidman problem.”

That’s barely what this movie about.

I’m not familiar with Northern Lights (or the title it was released under here in America, The Golden Compass), the novel the film is based on, by which I mean I didn’t know it existed until I saw the trailer for the movie.  So all I had to go on was the trailer, and that trailer did not entice me to see this movie.  (I saw it anyway, but that’s besides the point – I also saw City of Ember, and like the trailer, that movie was kinda crappy.)  Against all odds, I watched it.  Why not, after all?  I like animals, and polar bears kinda look like big white dogs to me, and dogs are, as the kids say, ‘da bomb.’  What could possible go wrong?

the golden compassNothing much.  It’s a pretty good movie… only it doesn’t have much to do with polar bears and some weird animal war like I thought.  I guess I was expecting some weird Narnia knockoff, but what I got was more crazy shiz than I can shake a dæmon at.  (That’s pronounced demon, by the way.)  Yeah, dæmon.  The movie starts with a voice over that explains what a dæmon is; wikipeida does as good a job with one sentence:

The film is set in a world where a person’s soul resides outside their body in an animal-like form called a “dæmon“.

Got that?  Oh, and they talk, too.  And they’re independently sentient, meaning they have a mind of their own and don’t have any sort of telepathic connection to their human.  Oh and the childrens’ dæmons are shape shifters, but once you reach adult hood, they pick a constant shape.  Because… yeah, not sure why.

After the voice over, I figured we’d be surrounded by snow, but nope.  Looks like England – well to me, at least.  So these kids hang out with their dæmons and the Magisterium is kidnapping kids to try and separate them from their dæmons because Lord Asriel has learned that particles called “Dust,” which originates in a parallel universe and enters a person’s body via their dæmon, and the Magisterium believes the Dust will influence them and they want to inoculate themselves from said influence by separating themselves from their dæmons…

And there are a bunch of other plot threads moving through the movie, like the polar bears, the witches, who are Lyra Belacqua‘s parents, what will the bad guys do if they get their hands on the alethiometer (technical name for the Golden Compass) and… oh  yeah, the fate of the kidnapped kids and all this other crazy stuff!

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.  If you like fantasy, you’ll enjoy this movie.  The characters are interesting and complex, and the story movies along well.  The effects aren’t perfect, but the acting is.  The bad news is the movie ends abruptly, leaving the door open for a sequel (two sequels, actually) that it sounds like New Line Cinema has no intention of bringing to the big screen.

So if The Golden Compass sounds interesting to you, I guess you’re better off reading the books.  I plan to – after all, the movie was good.

About Jamie Insalaco

Jamie Insalaco is the author of, and editor in chief of

Posted on October 7, 2010, in movie review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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