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The Golden Compass
Information about The Golden Compass (film)The Golden Compass is a 2007 (6 years ago) fantasy movie based on Northern Lights (published as The Golden Compass in the U.S.), the first novel in Philip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials, and was released on dec. 7, 2007 (6 years ago) by New Line Cinema. Directed by Chris Weitz, it stars Daniel Craig (33 walls), Nicole Kidman (24 walls), Eva Green and Dakota Blue Richards. The project was announced in Feb. 2002 (11 years ago), following the success of recent adaptations of other fantasy epics, but troubles over the script and the selection of a director caused significant delays. At US$180 million, it was one of New Line's most expensive projects ever, and its middling success in the US contributed to New Line's Feb. 2008 (5 years ago) restructuring.
The story concerns Lyra, an orphan living in a fantastical parallel universe in which a dogmatic theocracy called the Magisterium threatens to dominate the world. When Lyra's friend is kidnapped, she travels to the far North in an attempt to rescue him and rejoin her uncle.
Before its release, the movie received criticism from secular organizations and fans of His Dark Materials for the dilution of the religious elements from the novels, as well as from some religious organizations for the source material's anti-Christian and atheistic themes. The studio ordered significant changes late in post-production, which Weitz later called a "terrible" experience; though film's visual effects (which Weitz has called the film's "most successful element") won both an Academy Award and a BAFTA, critical reception was mixed.
PlotIn a parallel universe in which a person's soul resides outside the body in an animal-like form called a "dæmon", the planet is controlled by an authoritarian organization called the Magisterium. In Oxford, orphaned Lyra Belacqua, a ward of Jordan College along with her dæmon Pantalaimon (nicknamed "Pan") tells tales of the "Gobblers", whom she and her friends believe are responsible for several local children's disappearance. Visiting the college is Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel, who, against official Magisterium doctrine, is presenting evidence that particles called "Dust" exist. After Lyra saves Asriel from an assassination attempt by a Magisterial representative by knocking a glass of tokay—poisoned by the reresentative—out of Asriel's hand, the college funds his expedition to the far north to investigate the Dust substance. He believes it originates in a parallel universe and enters a person's body via their dæmon. Fearing the effects of Dust, the Magisterium has been experimenting on children to discover a way to inoculate others against it.
After Asriel departs, the college is visited by Mrs. Coulter, who offers to take Lyra north as her assistant. Before leaving, the college Master entrusts Lyra with an alethiometer (the film's titular Golden Compass). This device is able to reveal the answer to any question asked by a trained user. It is the last one in existence since the Magisterium had them destroyed (except the one that the college saved). Though unable to operate it, Lyra accepts the gift, promising never to reveal she has it, and takes it with her to Mrs. Coulter's home. When Mrs. Coulter arouses Lyra's suspicions by delaying their journey, Lyra discovers 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 Parslow and her Gyptian friend Billy Costa have been taken by the Gobblers to the north.
Mrs. Coulter learns of Lyra's possession of the alethiometer, but Lyra escapes. The "Gobblers" pursue her, but she is saved by the Gyptians: a nomadic boat people. They are travelling north by sea to rescue the kidnapped children, including many Gyptians ones. Lyra travels with them and begins to understand the alethiometer's use with help from a Gyptian wise man, Farder Coram, and a witch queen, Serafina Pekkala, who appears during the journey and tells Lyra that the children are being held in a research facility, known as Bolvangar, now shunned by all living things. During this journey, Lyra and Pan are chased by two insect-robots, which were sent by the Magisterium, one of which is caught, and sealed into a tin box. At a Norwegian port, Lyra befriends aeronaut Lee Scoresby, who advises her to hire Iorek Byrnison, an exiled prince of armoured polar bears. Iorek is employed as a metalworker after he was tricked out of his armour by the local townspeople. Lyra uses the alethiometer to discover the armour's location, which Iorek recovers. He pledges his service to Lyra's cause, and the Gyptians hire Scoresby to aid their trek north.
The alethiometer guides Lyra to Billy Costa, who has escaped from a Magisterium research station. She finds him dazed and lacking his dæmon, and returns him to the Gyptians. The group is attacked by Samoyeds who capture Lyra. She is taken to the armoured bear king, whom Lyra tricks into fighting Iorek for the throne. Iorek kills him and reclaims his kingship. He carries Lyra to Bolvangar, but the two are separated by a collapsing ice bridge. Lyra pretends to be lost and is welcomed into the station by Magisterium scientists. She locates Roger and instructs him to have the other kidnapped children prepare for escape. Lyra discovers that the Magisterium scientists, under the guidance of Mrs. Coulter, are performing experiments to sever the bond between a child and their dæmon. She also learns that Asriel is engaged in his research farther north and that assassins have been sent to kill him. After being discovered eavesdropping by the scientists, Lyra is taken to a room where they begin performing the separation procedure, causing Lyra and Pan to enter a panicky frenzy. Before the cut is completed, Mrs. Coulter enters the room and rescues Lyra, taking Lyra to her quarters.
Lyra wakes up in Mrs. Coulter's quarters. Mrs. Coulter, seeing that Lyra is awake, tries to assure her no one will ever hurt her. Lyra's horrified when Mrs. Coulter explains that the cut is for the children's own good and shrinks away from her but Mrs. Coulter sits on the end of the bed and tells Lyra the truth - she's her mother! Then, Mrs. Coulter attempts to take The Golden Compass away from Lyra, but Lyra instead gives her the tin box with the insect-robot sealed inside. As Mrs. Coulter opens it, she is stung, and falls instantly asleep. Lyra then escapes and finds herself in the separation chamber.
Lyra destroys the separation machinery, leading to a series of explosions that begin to tear down the facility. Lyra leads the other children outside, where Magisterial guards block their escape. A battle ensues when Iorek, the Gyptians, and a band of witches led by Serafina Pekkala arrive. The guards are defeated and the children are rescued. Rather than returning south with the Gyptians and the rescued children, Lyra and Roger instead travel north with Lee Scoresby, Iorek Byrnison and Serafina to find Lord Asriel. Serafina posits that the Magisterium does not just want to control their world, but "every world in every universe"; however, Lyra is certain that, once she delivers the alethiometer to her father, the two of them will be able to make things right.
ProductionFilming began at Shepperton Studios on sep. 4, 2006 (7 years ago), 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, Exeter College, Oxford, the Queen's College, Oxford 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. Kate Bush recorded the track Lyra which plays over the end credits.
DevelopmentOn Feb. 11, 2002 (11 years ago), following the success of New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (15 walls), the studio bought the rights to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In Jul. 2003 (10 years ago) 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 Stoppard's 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 (9 years ago), Weitz was invited by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson onto the set of King Kong (18 walls) 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 organized religion would have to be softened, he was criticized by some fans, and on dec. 15, 2004 (9 years ago), 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 Aug. 9, 2005 (8 years ago), it was announced that British director Anand Tucker would take over from Weitz. Tucker felt the movie 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 (7 years ago), citing creative disagreements with New Line, and Weitz returned to direct. Weitz said "I'm both the first and third director on the film... [B]ut I did a lot of growing in the interim."
According to producer Deborah Forte, Tucker wanted to make a smaller, less exciting movie 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.
ReceptionReviews of The Golden Compass were mixed. As of Jan. 4, 2009 (4 years ago), review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 42% of critics gave the movie positive reviews, based on 188 reviews, with a 50% rating from 32 selected "top" critics. At the similar website Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the movie has received an average score of 51, based on 33 reviews.
Manohla Dargis of the New York Times said that the movie "crams so many events, characters,...twists and turns, sumptuously appointed rooms and ethereally strange vistas...that [it] risks losing you in the whirl" and that while The Golden Compass is "an honorable work," it is "hampered by its fealty to the book and its madly rushed pace." James Berardinelli of ReelReviews gave the movie 2½ stars out of 4, calling it "adequate but not inspired" and criticizing the first hour for its rushed pace and sketchily-developed characters. James Christopher of The Times was disappointed, praising the "marvellous" special effects and casting, but saying that the "books weave a magic the movie simply cannot match" and citing a "lack of genuine drama."
Time rated it a "B" and called it a "good, if familiar fantasy", saying "The find is Dakota Blue Richards...who's both grounded and magical." Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian rated it four stars out of five, praising Nicole Kidman's casting and saying it had "no other challengers as [2007's] big Christmas movie." Leonard Maltin gave the movie three out of four stars, and said that "Richards is persuasive" and that it " does a good job of introducing us to an unfamiliar world." Critic Roger Ebert awarded the movie four out of four stars and called it "a darker, deeper fantasy epic than the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia or the Potter films," saying that it "creates villains that are more complex and poses more intriguing questions. As a visual experience, it is superb. As an escapist fantasy, it is challenging...I think [it] is a wonderfully good-looking movie, with exciting passages and a captivating heroine."
Pullman himself was described by a Times interviewer as sounding "ambivalent" and "guarded" about the film, saying in Mar. 2008 (5 years ago): “A lot of things about it were good... Nothing's perfect. Nothing can bring out all that's in the book. There are always compromises”. He hoped, however, that the rest of the trilogy would be adapted with the same cast and crew. In Jul. 2009 (4 years ago), after this possibility had been exhausted, Weitz told Time.com that he thought the film's special effects ended up being its "most successful element."
Awards receivedThe Golden Compass won the 2008 (5 years ago) BAFTA Award for Special Visual Effects and an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It was also nominated for two Critics' Choice Awards in 2007 (6 years ago) ("Best Family Film," and "Best Young Actress" for Dakota Blue Richards), five Satellite Awards, and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.
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