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Film / The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass is a 2007 fantasy adventure film written and directed by Chris Weitz and based on the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (taking its name from the book's US title rather than its original title Northern Lights). It stars Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua, Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter, and Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, with Sam Elliott, Ian McKellen, and Eva Green in supporting roles.

Lyra Belacqua, an orphan running amok at Jordan College, gets drawn into her Uncle Asriel's stories of the North. Snatched up by Mrs. Coulter with promises of adventure, Lyra gets involved in an adventure that leads her to befriend Armored Polar Bear Warrior and a Hot Witch as she searches for her lost friend in the North.

The film critically and commercially underperformed, not helped by the Executive Meddling, the ongoing recession at the time, and the film's downplaying of the book's perceived anti-religious themes, which elicited criticism from secularist and religious organizations. The cancellation of the planned adaptations of the rest of the trilogy has gone down as quite a famous example of a Stillborn Franchise.

An unrelated TV series, His Dark Materials, adapted the same books this film did, and was announced in 2015 by The BBC, became a BBC/HBO co-production (and subsequently, had one of the biggest ever budgets for a BBC Production) and Series 1 started airing in November 2019. It set itself out to be Truer to the Text than the 2007 film, and has adapted the whole book trilogy, with Series 2 airing in 2020, while the third series is set to air at the end of December 2022, which will complete the adaptation.


  • Accent Adaptation: Lyra, Roger and Billy have cockney accents, all the high ranking characters (including Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel, the scholars and Magisterium personnel) speak in RP, the Gyptians speak with West Country accents (and Lord Faa's is more faint to sell him as the leader), Serafina Pekkala speaks in a combination of French and RP to sound more exotic. Lee Scoresby naturally has a Texan drawl.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Mrs. Coulter has black hair in the books and is 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 favorite 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.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: 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 
  • Adaptation Name Change: Iofur Raknison's name was changed to Ragnar Sturlusson because Chris Weitz feared it sounded too similar to Iorek Byrnison.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Mrs. Coulter's dæmon is a golden lion tamarin, not the golden monkey it was in the book.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: When Lyra questions Mrs. Coulter about why the latter didn't let the former be cut from Pan, Mrs. Coulter assumes this approach to reveal herself to be Lyra's mother.
    Mrs. Coulter: I'm going to tell you something. Something very important, something you don't know. Intercision isn't perfect yet, and you're not just anyone, Lyra. Your mother didn't die in an airship accident as you were told. She wasn't married to your father, and even though… even though she loved you very much and… and she wanted to keep you… it wasn't allowed. And so you were taken from her. And it wasn't until things… changed… and she was free to do as she wanted that… that she went to Jordan College and she spoke to the Master.
    Lyra: No! You can't be!
    Mrs. Coulter: Yes, Lyra. You're mine.
  • Ascended Extra: 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 dæmon rather than Book!Fra Pavel's frog.
  • Behind the Black: Iorek's Big Damn Heroes 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.
  • Bowdlerise: The Magisterium’s Latin motto, “Vnica Ecclesia Super Omnia” (One Church Over All), is usually abbreviated as V.E.S.O on most of their emblems, but was originally visible in full on the floor emblem Fra Pavel stepped on when meeting with the Emissary. Though visible in an early preview, it was erased from the final cut due to the studio’s fear of religious backlash.
  • Composite Character:
    • Billy Costa is a composite character of himself from the books and Tony Makarios.
    • Fra Pavel seems to be a cross between Fra Pavel Rašek and Father Luis Gomez from The Amber Spyglass.
  • Cut Short: The ending of the book was filmed, but chopped off to avoid a Downer Ending. 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.
  • Eerie Arctic Research Station: The Magisterium, an evil theocracy, kidnaps poor children and takes them to a secret research facility in the Arctic to perform unethical, nonconsensual surgical experiments on them.
  • Expy: Oh, hey there, it's a Texan Revolver Ocelot, complete with his signature side arm. Erm...
  • Fake Russian: 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. Justified however, since there are many Tatars with Russian as a first language.
  • Fake Shemp: During the Bolvangar evacuation at the film's climax, there is a brief shot of Mrs Coulter being led away with her back to the camera - it's quite obvious that this is not Nicole Kidman, but someone else in an ill-matching blonde wig. This shot, accompanied by a looped line of dialogue, is Mrs Coulter's final appearance in the film, and must have been inserted to prevent the character from simply disappearing in the film's rushed conclusion.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The polar bear fight, though it is toned down from how it is in the book. At least Iorek doesn't rip Ragnar's heart out and eat it then and there.
  • Full-Name Basis: 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 Large and in Charge... as well as being the physical embodiment of Rule of Cool (she does just call him Iorek right before the fight against Ragnar). Oddly enough she just calls Lee "Mr. Scoresby".
  • Happily Ever Before: The movie ends just as Lyra and Roger go off to find Lord Azriel, right before Roger is killed to open the portal to another dimension.
  • Infodump: An opening narration by Serafina Pekkala explaining the nature of dæmons, alternate universes and dust. It was added at the request of the studio, who believed viewers would be confused.
  • Jawbreaker: The duel between Iorek Byrnison and Ragnar Sturlusson seemingly ends when Ragnar cripples Iorek's left frontpaw, and starts taunting him. Iorek ends the fight by knocking off Ragnar's jaw with his remaining frontpaw.
  • Light Is Not Good: 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 dæmon. In addition, the evil polar bear king Ragnar Sturlosson 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 dæmons of the Magisterium soldiers), its fairly safe to say this movie is perhaps the best to express this trope.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Mrs. Coulter is Lyra's mother, while Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel is Lyra's father. While both these secrets are revealed early on in the book by Gyptians, the big revelation is done in the third act by Mrs. Coulter herself after she has saved Lyra from intercision, a change which was first seen in the stage play
  • Magic Compass: The Alethiometer points to the truth.
  • Motifs: The good guys are surrounded by circles (the circular aleithometer, Lord Asriel’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 note that the circle is a pure form, while the oval is a corruption thereof.
  • The Multiverse: Sort of; the book's 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.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: See Behind the Black above.
  • Our Souls Are Different: They appear as Shapeshifting Talking Animals.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Iorek Byrnison.
  • Spiritual Successor: The studio clearly meant it to be one to The Lord of the Rings 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. Even the designs of the vehicles and aircraft of Lyra's world are blatantly steampunk-influenced. Strangely, the design aesthetic does not extend to Marisa Coulter, who seems to be surrounded by a 1920/1950 Art Deco designs.
  • Talking Animal: Played absolutely straight with the Panserbjørne, intelligent polar bears with thumbs and a talent for metalworking. The dæmons also count.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry
  • There Was a Door: Iorek after getting back his armor, symbolizing his return to badass status.
  • Thunderbolt Iron: "Sky-Iron" forms Iorek's armor.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A sequel would presumably have explained what happened to the severed dæmons; without one, viewers will have to read the books to find out what became of Billy's Ratter.
  • Zeppelins from Another World


Video Example(s):


Lord Azriel

Daniel Craig of Casino Royale fame was really done dirty in this film.

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Main / TheyWastedAPerfectlyGoodCharacter

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