Newcomers and old fans alike of Philip Pullman's phenomenal "His Dark Materials" fantasy trilogy will be pleased with New Line Cinema's adaptation of the first book in the trilogy.
Set in a parallel universe, "The Golden Compass" tells the story of a young orphaned girl named Lyra (newcomer Dakota Blue Richards) living with her daemon Pantalaimon (voiced by Freddie Highmore, "August Rush") at Jordan College in Oxford, England. In this parallel universe daemons are manifestations of the human soul, living outside the body in animal form, and are their humans' closest companions.
A daemons is thus a novel way of seeing into the character's mind. When a human abuses his daemon, it is an example of self-hatred. Vigorous daemons accompany energetic humans. Placid daemons accompany equally detached humans. Absolutely forbidden in this universe is the laying of hands on another person's daemon unless expressly allowed. To do so without permission is the worst kind of mental rape.
The overarching authority in this universe is the Magisterium. Readers of the books understood the Magisterium to be a fictionalized Catholic Church which had assumed much more power than in our own universe and sought to control virtually every human thought and action (though there is no explicit mention of the Catholic Church in any of the books).
Predictably New Line Cinema, afraid of offending Catholics, had some of the more religious elements in the books watered down. Still, most viewers can reasonably understand the Magisterium to be a representation of any dogmatic theocracy. While the Catholic League, an anti-defamation Catholic group, has called for a boycott of the film, I would encourage all moviegoers who enjoy a good fantasy flick to see this film.
Be you Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Buddhist, by refusing to watch or read anything for the sole reason that it is vaguely or explicitly critical of your belief system, we contribute to the stereotypes that we belong to religions which encourage dogmatic top-down thinking.
Freedom of expression reasons aside, "The Golden Compass" is a worthy heir to New Line's first fantasy trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings" and director Chris Weitz deserves a lot more credit than Pullman fanatics have given him. But this is no Tolkein universe. You will not find any elves, hobbits or dragons in this universe. Rather you will find talking armored bears, witches and gypsies.
Fans of "The Lord of the Rings" will no doubt be pleased to know that both Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee have roles in the new trilogy though sadly they do not play wizards. Lee plays a Magisterium official and McKellen provides the voice of the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison
Without a doubt in my mind the most spectacular fight scene of 2007 occurs in this film when Iorek goes head-to-head with a rival armored bear. Prepare to be amazed. This is nature's fury at its best with a CGI twist.
And if you're still not impressed, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig also have major roles in the film as well.
"The Golden Compass: is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence. It has a running time of 114 minutes.