10 May 2008

The Golden Compass (PG13)

Anyone who’s paid attention to the news over the last couple months is aware of how many Christian groups have seethed over New Line Cinema’s film adaptation of the first in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass.

The setting of the story takes place in a parallel Earth, where all humans have their own animal counterpart that represents their souls. Referred to as “daemons,” these animal souls talk and help their humans, and whatever pains or pleasure one experiences so does the other.

It’s no secret that Pullman’s trilogy is offered as the antithesis to the overt Christian propaganda so strongly present in C.S. Lewis’ beloved Chronicles of Narnia. Although the books have been referred to as “atheism for kids,” the movie itself carries no obvious subversion of the Christian church. Pullman states that he finds Lewis to be “blatantly racist” and "monumentally disparaging of women." The Golden Compass certainly shows his stark contrast to Lewis.

Most notable is the story’s protagonist, young Lyra Belacqua. This precocious girl of 12 rarely flinches throughout the movie, boldly approaching obviously dangerous authority figures with disdain and standing defiant in front of giant polar bear kings. Her quick thinking saves herself and others on multiple occasions, and when she could conceivably let others perform her tasks for her, she takes them on herself.

Further contrasts include those who befriend and assist Lyra along her journey. From the Gyptians who are obviously derived from our own world’s oft marginalized gypsies to the witches who watch over and protect Lyra, those typically viewed by the Church in our world as evil and treacherous are the heroes of the story.

Those who shape the sterling society based on strict rules and order, on the other hand, are the sinister figures. Marissa Coulter (an Ann Coulter knock-off?) secretly heads the Gobblers. This force of undercover adults kidnaps prepubescent children to be taken to Bolvangar, an “experiment” station that researches the Dust, a mysterious substance that few are willing to discuss openly.

The Magisterium for whom Miss Coulter works is the controlling oppressor in the story. They represent unyielding order, but all done under the guise of protecting the people from themselves. They, as it turns out, are the ones responsible for the kidnapping Gobblers. It is their hope to perform successful “intercisions” upon the children before their daemons settle. This is the process of cutting ones daemon from them, in essence, cutting away their very soul.

When Lyra’s friend Roger is kidnapped, she unknowingly sets off to rescue him from Bolvangar. Traveling as Miss Coulter’s assistant, Lyra quickly realizes the supposedly wonderful woman’s nasty underbelly and barely escapes. What she discovers is that many people are watching her and standing at the ready to help her. She soon gains the protection of Iorek Byrnison, a massive armored polar bear, and the assistance of the Gyptians and a Texan aeronaut named Lee Scoresby.

The movie takes many twists and turns, and anyone who enjoys steampunk style movies will surely enjoy the presentation and effects used in this movie. From grand zeppelins to spy flies, this movie offers a spectacle for the eyes.

It also offers harsh honesty. The producers held no punches in regards to violence, with explicit scenes of death teeming from the silver screen. The one-on-one fight scene between the once-fallen Iorek and the current bear king Ragnar Sturlusson is almost as explicit as that scene from Pulp Fiction with the adrenaline shot. Although this movie is billed for kids, especially protective parents will want to censor their little ones from this one until they’re much older.

Oh, and one more warning about this exciting action-fantasy film: it’s the first part in a series. If the end of the first two Lord of the Rings movies ticked you off, you might want to wait until they produce all the films in this series before you sit down to watch them.

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