An adaptation of Philip Pullman's ''Literature/HisDarkMaterials'', or rather, an adaptation of the first book. ''The Golden Compass'' is a loose adaptation of the first book in the trilogy and takes its name from the US title instead of ''Northern Lights''.

Lyra, an [[ParentalAbandonment orphan running amok]] at Jordan College, gets drawn into her Uncle Asriel's stories of the North. Snatched up by [[FemmeFatale Miss Coulter]] with promises of adventure, Lyra gets involved in an adventure that leads her to befriend [[RuleOfCool Armored]] [[BearsAreBadNews Polar Bear]] [[ProudWarriorRaceGuy Warrior]] and a HotWitch as she searches for her lost friend in the North.

The movie received quite a bit of attention before release due to the controversial themes approached in the book and the appearance as a children's movie. [[NoSuchThingAsBadPublicity Protests were staged and news stories were made about both the movie and the book]]. However, the movie ended up doing less business than was anticipated and received lackluster reviews.[[note]]... At least in the US. Internationally, it made over [[GermansLoveDavidHasselhoff $300 million]], enough to more than cover its budget.[[/note]] Unfortunately, New Line Cinema had sold off all the international distribution rights in order to finance the film's production (apparently thinking that [[WhatAnIdiot the highly religious US audience that was protesting the film would turn out to see it]]), meaning that [[BoxOfficeBomb they never saw a penny of the international box office]]. As a result, [[CreatorKiller New Line was merged into]] Creator/WarnerBros soon after. It still won an UsefulNotes/AcademyAward for Visual Effects (''Film/{{Transformers}}'' and ''Franchise/PiratesOfTheCaribbean'' fans [[AwardSnub were unhappy]]). The major themes of the book were altered, most likely due to ExecutiveMeddling. The [[FocusGroupEnding truncated third act]] made a second film virtually unscriptable, and so the questions of how the sequels would handle the changes were answered by the [[StillbornFranchise ultimate cancellation of the franchise.]]

[[FanonDiscontinuity Many 'His Dark Materials' fans tend to ignore it.]]

* AdaptationDyeJob:
** Mrs Coulter is black haired in the book and blonde in the film. Philip Pullman gave his approval of this - "I was wrong. She has to be blonde" - as Nicole Kidman had been his personal favourite for the role.
** Serafina Pekkala is described as "fair-haired" in the book but depicted with dark hair in the film. Ironically Eva Green is a natural blonde.
* AdaptationInducedPlotHole: In the book, Lyra saves the kids ''before'' being captured by the bears. The other way around, it seems pretty odd that after Iorek regains the rule of the bears, he doesn't lead them to help her. They try to cover it by having Lyra cross an ice bridge that would collapse under anyone else, but even then, Iorek is the only one with her.[[note]]It was filmed the order it was in the book but then swapped around as the studio felt that the battle at Bolvangar made a better climax.[[/note]]
* AdaptationNameChange: Iofur Raknison's name was changed to Ragnar Sturlusson because it sounded too similar to Iorek Byrnison.
* AscendedExtra: In the book, Fra Pavel is simply a minor character who deciphers the Aleithiometer in ''The Amber Spyglass''. In the film, he is the Magisterium's representative at Jordan College. Perhaps, if the sequels had been made, he may have performed the role of Father Gomez as he even has Gomez' insect daemon rather than Book!Fra Pavel's frog.
* BehindTheBlack: Iorek's BigDamnHeroes moment in the climax is one of the most absurd examples of this in any medium; despite being a giant bear wearing loud, clanging armor, he somehow manages to get ''in between'' the two opposite groups with nobody noticing.
* CompositeCharacter:
** Billy Costa is a merger of himself and Tony Makarios.
** Fra Pavel seems to be a cross between Fra Pavel Rašek and Father Luis Gomez from ''The Amber Spyglass''.
* CutShort: The ending of the book was filmed, but chopped off to avoid a DownerEnding. Fans were wary of how they could make it work as the beginning of film two instead, but we'll never know. Showing how late this decision was made, clips of it still appear in the trailer and in the video game.
* {{Expy}}: Oh, hey there, it's a [[EverythingIsBigInTexas Texan]] Revolver Ocelot, complete with his signature side arm. Erm...
* FakeRussian: Bizarrely {{inverted}} in-universe by The Tartars (derived from real life Tatars). They, in fact, speak ''perfect'' Russian without any sort of accent! Which is quite curious, since the actual Tatar language is unmistakably different from Russian. [[JustifiedTrope Justified]] however, since there are many Tatars with Russian as a first language.
* FamilyUnfriendlyViolence: The polar bear fight.
* FullNameBasis: Lyra is like this with several characters, including the witch Serafina Pekkala and Iorek Byrnison. This is probably to emphasize Serafina Pekkala's exotic nature and Iorek's status as LargeAndInCharge... as well as being the physical embodiment of RuleOfCool.
* HappilyEverBefore: The movie ends just as Lyra and Roger go off to find Lord Azriel, right before [[spoiler: Roger is killed to open the portal to another dimension]].
* {{Infodump}}: Starting from the opening monologue, and then it gets worse from there.
* LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters: Lyra is our protagonist but she quickly meets a bunch of people along her travels. Half the movie is her meeting new people and then moving onto the next set.
* LightIsNotGood: The movie version of Mrs Coulter, who not only is blonde and beautiful but dresses in shiny clothes and has a golden monkey for a daemon. In addition, the evil polar bear king Ragnar Sturlosson [[CaptainObvious is white]] and has a shiny armor (compared to the duller armor of Iorek), and instead of using a special blade as in the books intercision is done in the movie via some weird laser machines. Considering there's hardly anything bad related to darkness in the movie (except for the nasty-looking wolf daemons of the Magisterium soldiers), its fairly safe to say this movie is perhaps the best to express this trope.
* LukeIAmYourFather:
** [[spoiler:Mrs. Coulter]] is [[spoiler:Lyra]]'s mother.
** And [[spoiler:Lord Asriel]] is [[spoiler:Lyra]]'s father.
* MagicCompass: The Alethiometer points to the truth.
* MissingTrailerScene: Quite a few considering how much was cut from the final release. Including the entire ending. What is even weirder is the ''video game'' follows the plot line more than the film because it has the actual ending.
* {{Motifs}}: The good guys are surrounded by circles (the circular aleithometer, Lord Azriel's carousel projector, most of the instruments at Jordan College etc), while the evil characters by ovals (the Magisterium's logo and the intercision room at Bolvangar, which is dominated by a oval arch). The designers of the film notes that the circle is a pure form, and the oval is a corruption thereof.
* TheMultiverse: Sort of; the book's [[DownerEnding original ending]] was removed (though it was filmed), combined with the unlikely chance of the sequels getting made, this might be irrelevant. The opening exposition ''did'' say the setting of this film was part of a Multiverse, though.
** The original opening would have shown a cat crossing from "our" world into Lyra's through a portal and then being scared at seeing Pan change shape.
* OffscreenTeleportation: See BehindTheBlack above.
* OurSoulsAreDifferent: They appear as ShapeShifting {{Talking Animal}}s.
* ProudWarriorRaceGuy: Iorek Byrnison
* SpiritualSuccessor: It was meant to be one to ''Film/LordOfTheRings'' as a glance at the Teaser Trailer will show.
* SteamPunk: Whereas the book only hints at it, the film plays the steampunk up to the hilt. Strangely, the design asthetic does not extend to Marisa Coulter, who seems to be surrounded by a 1920/1950 Art Deco designs.
* TalkingAnimal: [[PlayedStraight Played absolutely straight]] with the [[RuleOfCool Panserbjørne]], intelligent [[BearsAreBadNews polar bears]] with thumbs and a talent for metalworking. The daemons also count.
* ThatMakesMeFeelAngry
* ThereWasADoor: Iorek after getting back his armor, symbolizing his return to {{Badass}} status.
* ThunderboltIron: "Sky-Iron" forms Iorek's armor.
* [[WhatHappenedToTheMouse What Happened to the Rat?]]: A sequel would presumably have explained what happened to the severed daemons; without one, viewers will have to read the books to find out what became of Billy's Ratter.
* ZeppelinsFromAnotherWorld