Story

Based on the book by Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass is the first of a trilogy. The story takes place in a parallel world where people’s spirits live outside their bodies in the form of small, talking animals, which can change shape. Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), is a 12-year-old, adventurous orphan who lives at Jordan College. Her ‘uncle’, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), is her benefactor. Lyra overhears the college master discussing Lord Asriel’s proposed expedition to research the mysterious ‘dust’ that permeates their world from other worlds. The master is talking with the Magisterium, an all-powerful religious order that controls their world. The Magisterium will go to any lengths to prevent Asriel from going. 

Lyra is also troubled by rumours that children are being stolen by Gobblers. When Lyra is befriended by the beautiful but mysterious Mrs Coulter (Nicole Kidman), she is at first thrilled to accompany her on a trip to the North. But Lyra becomes increasingly suspicious that Mrs Coulter has something to do with the Gobblers.

Lord Asriel gives Lyra a gift of a golden compass. It is the only one left of its kind, and in it Lyra can see the truth. She sets out on a quest with her golden compass to find and rescue her best friend Roger (Ben Walker), who’s been taken by the Gobblers. The quest leads her on an extraordinary journey where she meets Iorek (Ian McKellan), an ice bear, Serafina the witch (Eva Green). A tribe of Gyptians have been entrusted with her welfare and together they have to fight the forces of evil.

Themes

Warfare, supernatural powers

Violence

There is some violence in this movie. For example:

  • Mrs Coulter’s daemon, a monkey, appears suddenly and starts to choke Billy’s daemon, which makes Billy choke too. This scene is particularly scary.
  • The monkey attacks Pan, Lyra’s personal daemon. This also hurts Lyra and makes her scream.
  • Pan and the monkey fight over the golden compass. Pan flees through the window, shutting the monkey’s paw in it, which also hurts Mrs Coulter.
  • Two large men capture Lyra in a net.
  • Gyptians shoot arrows at Lyra’s captors, setting her free.
  • Asriel is attacked and shot by a tribe of Samoyed people and their ferocious dogs.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes, themes and images in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of eight. For example:

  • Lyra is an orphan.
  • The personal daemons change shape.
  • There are a lot of graphic images that are quite scary for children in this age group. These include Iorek the bear, who is large and fierce and growls ferociously. Also, the Samoyed tribes have fierce, snarling dogs. The bears in the Ice Palace are all large and ferocious, particularly the Bear King who looks very evil. Mrs Coulter’s monkey is very vicious. There are several battle scenes.
  • The Gyptians are scary-looking people, dark and fierce.
  • Characters talk about a poison gown that burns you alive.
  • Characters talk about gobblers, who steal children and gobble them up.

Over 8

In addition to the scenes and themes mentioned above, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children in thi sage group. For example:

  • Lyra prevents Lord Asriel from drinking a poisoned chalice.
  • Lyra is found hiding under a table at the experimental station. The guards squeeze Pan which makes Lyra pass out. She’s then put in a chamber to perform an intercission – separation of her and Pan. During this operation, electric currents are passed through her body. She appears dead.

Sexual references

None of concern

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

There is some use of substances in this movie. For example, characters drink wine at dinner and at home. Also, Iorek the bear gets paid in whisky.

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Product placement

None of concern

Coarse language

None of concern

Ideas to discuss with your children

The Golden Compass is an exciting fantasy film with spectacular graphics, which is likely to appeal to older children. It is too intense for younger children. The main message from this movie is that good triumphs over evil.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include self-sacrifice, loyalty, courage and friendship. This movie could also give you the opportunity to discuss the need to find alternative ways to face conflict rather than resorting to physical violence.