Several years ago, I read and enjoyed Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, never knowing that in due course, the first book, Northern Lights, would be filmed under the new name “The Golden Compass”. Obviously, in due course that was exactly what happened, and now the time has come to pass judgement on the film version.
Set in an alternate universe where every human possesses an daemon- a physical manifestation of their soul in the shape of an animal- the film follows Lyra Belacqua, a half-feral girl from Jordan College, Oxford who an embarks on a journey northwards to save her friend Roger from a shadowy force performing unspeakable experiments on children. In book form, the tale was both intricate and detailed, and so it is unsurprising that a lot has had to be missed out from the movie version- to think of it as a highly pared-down version would not be too far from the truth. Changes and omissions abound, but then when don’t they in such an adaptation?
In fact, the best way to enjoy this film is simply to forget that it was adapted from a book at all- spend every minute making unfavourable comparisons, and of course you’ll come out feeling frustrated, but if you just take the film on its own merit, then it is actually rather good. The acting is largely worthy, the pacing is decent, and the effects are spot on- especially with regards to bringing the daemons and the armoured bears to life. Yes, the ending does make it hard to see how the second film is going to follow the second book, but let’s deal with that when we come to it.
Overall, then, this is an enjoyable film and worth watching- just as long as you don’t get caught up in how much it’s been abbreviated compared to the original. Yes, the book is better, but the book is always better- it’s just something you have to live with.