His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials

"There are worlds beyond our own
The compass will show the way.
—Official tagline

The Golden Compass is the film adaptation of Northern Lights, the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. The film was released on 5 December, 2007 by New Line Cinema.[1] The project was announced in February 2002, following the success of other recent adaptations of fantasy epics. With a budget of $180 million, it is one of New Line's biggest-budget projects ever[2] after a series of box office disappointments preceding the release.

Before its release the film received criticism from both secular organisations and fans of His Dark Materials for the dilution of the religious elements from the novels, and also theist organisations — in particular, it was the subject of a boycott campaign by the U.S. Catholic League due to perceived anti-Catholic themes. The studio ordered significant changes late in post-production, which Weitz later called a "terrible" experience. Although the film's visual effects (which Weitz has called the film's "most successful element") won both a BAFTA and an Academy Award, critical reception was mixed and revenue lower than anticipated.


Lyra with her alethiometer

In Lyra's world, a world both similar and different to our own, there is a dominant organisation, the Magisterium. There is a crisis in Brytain as a group nicknamed the 'Gobblers' go around and take poor children. The gyptians, water travellers, are being worst hit.

At Jordan College in Oxford, Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon, an animal form of the soul that accompanies every human, Pantalaimon are living a wild life, climbing the roofs and throwing mud at the gyptian children. Lyra is an orphan and her only relative is the explorer Lord Asriel who is her uncle. Lyra and Pan witness a Magisterium agent poison Asriel's Tokay before a speech about Dust (a topic which has been forbidden to be mentioned) that he was taking in the Retiring Room of the college for the scholars.

Lyra saves her uncle by warning him about the poison before listening to his presentation, asking for money to send him on a mission to the North to discover more about Dust. He wanted to find out about other worlds which would severely destroy the Magisterium's authority.

Lyra later meets Marisa Coulter, a rich and influential woman who wants to take her on a trip to the North. Unknown to Lyra, Marisa is really her mother. The Master of Jordan College, Dr Carne, gives her the last alethiometer, a truth reader, to keep a secret from Mrs Coulter.

List of children kidnapped

Closer view of the list

Lyra is taken to Marisa Coulter's flat, in London, where Lyra starts to glimpse the life Marisa is leaving. There are lots of parties and trips. Soon, Lyra gets bored and annoyed by all these expeditions and asks Marisa about Dust. She warns Lyra never to talk of it again and tells her to stop wearing her bag everywhere as it isn't respectful inside. Lyra objects about the last point causing Marisa's dæmon to attack Pan and making Lyra take her bag off. Lyra goes into her room and curses the woman. Later, she goes into Marisa's study and Pan finds in the bin a sheet of paper signed by Marisa with a list of all the children taken by the 'General Oblation Board'. It includes Roger Parslow, Lyra's best friend at Jordan, and Billy Costa, a gyptian boy she knows well, Lyra comes to realise that Marisa Coulter is, in fact, the head of the Gobblers. The list also included P. Workman, J. Edwards, K. Harwood, E. Leem, M. Carnegie, B. Acorn, H. Pollington and C. Leatherland.

Lyra and Pan find, in their bedroom, that Marisa's dæmon is trying to take the alethiometer so they run and escape the flat. A number of Gobblers try to chase her, but then Ma Costa, the gyptian, finds her and brings her to John Faa's boat. The King of the Gyptians decide to head to the North and rescue all the kidnapped children.

The alethiometer

Lyra, still puzzled about her alethiometer, shows it to a gyptian elder, Coram van Texel, and discovers that she is able to decipher the device's puzzling answers, swinging to different symbols around the edges which mean different things.

Marisa sends two spy-flies after Lyra to find out where she is. Lyra notices them both, and despite trying to capture them both, only seizes one. She gives it to Farder Coram who explains that the spy-fly has a sting with a sleeping poison and that the escaped one would now tell Marisa where she was. They keep the captured one in a small tin.

Lord Asriel, meanwhile, has reached Svalbard, where the panserbjørn rule, but is captured by Samoyed tribesmen hired by Marisa.

On the ship one night, Lyra is visited by the witch queen of the Lake Enara clan, Serafina Pekkala who tells Lyra that the missing children are in an experimental station called Bolvangar. At Trollesund, a port in the North, Lyra meets and befriends a Texan aëronaut (a balloon flyer) called Lee Scoresby, who tells her of his friend Iorek Byrnison the ice bear. He tells her that, to hire them both, she should find Iorek's sky-iron Panserbjørn armour.

The bear was once a prince but was now exiled. The local people had tricked the bear out of his armour and forced him to work but, using the alethiometer, Lyra tells Iorek where to find his armour. Iorek and Lee soon join the gyptians on their journey.

Whilst camping for a night's rest, Lyra travels to an abandoned building with Iorek which her alethiometer showed her. There they find Billy who has been separated from his dæmon Ratter by the process of intercision. Billy and his mother are reunited but some Samoyeds attack the group and take Lyra. However, Iorek and Lee follow her in Lee's balloon. She is taken to the king of the bears, Ragnar Sturlusson, (called Iofur Raknison in the books) where Lyra tricks him into fighting Iorek one on one when he arrives at the palace. Bears are supposed to sense lies and deceit however, as Ragnar is trying to be more like a human, Lyra manages to convince him that she is Iorek's dæmon.

Lyra meets with Iorek before the fight

Ragnar gives her a question that only he knows - how he became king - and she gives him the answer. Lyra consults her alethiometer, telling him it is a tool used by dæmons. She tells Ragnar that she wants to be his dæmon and that he and Iorek should fight. Iorek is amazed that she lied to a bear and tells Lyra that she is no longer Lyra Belacqua but Lyra Silvertongue.

During the fight it seems, at first, that Ragnar, who had already fought Iorek, has the upper hand, but Iorek eventually manages to kill his rival by feigning injury, becoming the new and rightful king.

Iorek takes Lyra to an ice bridge just outside Bolvangar where she quickly crosses. The bridge is thin and couldn't support Iorek, breaking when Lyra crossed it. She enters the station and meets someone who tells her to come in. She says her name is Lizzie Brooks. Lyra comes when the children are having dinner and meets up with Roger. She tells him to get the other children into warm clothes. Lyra snoops around and hears Marisa tell some staff that Asriel has escaped and has set up a lab. The Magisterium soleries are going to kill him for heresy. She hears the scientists at the station talk about the intercisions.

Lyra and Pan in the chamber

Lyra, however, is caught spying and put into the intercision chamber. Just before she is about to be split, Marisa comes into the room and runs to get Lyra out. Marisa told Lyra about why she had to cut the children, giving her all her beliefs. She tells Lyra that she is her mother and Lyra guesses Asriel is her father. Marisa asks for the alethiometer, and instead Lyra gives her the spy-fly tin.

The fly attacks Marisa, knocking both human and dæmon out and Lyra runs to the room with the intercision machine, managing to destroy it, by changing the settings and throwing a machine into the middle of the chamber.


The children flee from the station but are attacked by Tartar mercenaries with wolf dæmons. Iorek, Lee and the gyptians along with a group of witches, headed by Serafina join the fight. Instead of going back to Oxford after they won the fight, Lyra, Roger, Iorek, Lee and the witch further north to look for Asriel leaving the gyptians to take the children back. Serafina finds that her prophecy detailing a war with Lyra at the centre is correct.

Lyra finds that she needs to fight the Magisterium and stop the plans of theirs, taking over the worlds in the multiverse.


Lead roles[]

Bolvangar staff[]




Jordan College staff[]




Differences between the novel and the film[]

  • Pavel Rasek, despite not appearing in the first book, plays an important role in the film.
  • Marisa Coulter is supposed to have black hair, but Nicole Kidman was blonde for this film.
  • The Holy Church was referred to only as the Magisterium to avoid offending religious organisations.
  • Lord Asriel does not, at the end of the movie, split Roger Parslow and his dæmon. This, in the book, allowed him to travel to other worlds in the multiverse.

Promotional material[]

An edition of Northern Lights, published 2007

There were multiple items and products released by New Line Cinema running up to the release of the film. These products were mostly based off early cuts of the film. These materials included a video game, board game and soundtrack for the film. Toys of the characters and vehicles were also produced along with plushies. Multiple books based off certain scenes from the film, written by Kay Woodward, were publiched by Scholastic for younger children.[3] They included shots of the film, these were:

  • The Golden Compass: Movie Storybook
  • The Golden Compass: Iorek And The Gyptian Alliance
  • The Golden Compass: Lyra's World
  • The Golden Compass: Pan And The Prisoners Of Bolvangar
  • The Golden Compass: The Golden Monkey and the Duel of the Daemons

During the run up to the film's release, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the US), twelve years after being published, founds its way onto the 'USA Today's Top 50 Best Sellers list' with a 500% increase in sales.

The official movie website was viewed, and the trailer was streamed, 10 million times with the website's dæmon feature having 20 million views.[4]

Editions of the entire trilogy with covers of the film poster were published after the film's release. Editions of Once Upon a Time in the North, published the year after in 2008, contained a golden sticker on the cover promoting the film.


Cancelled sequels[]

At the time of The Golden Compass's theatrical release, Chris Weitz pledged to "protect [the] integrity" of the prospective sequels by being "much less compromising" in the book-to-film adaptation process. New Line Cinema commissioned Hossein Amini to write a screenplay based on the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, potentially for release in May 2010, with the third book of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, to follow. However, New Line president Toby Emmerich stressed that production of the second and third films was dependent on the financial success of The Golden Compass. When The Golden Compass did not meet expectations at the United States box office, the likelihood of a sequel was downplayed by New Line. According to studio co-head Michael Lynne, "The jury is still very much out on the movie, and while it's performed very strongly overseas we'll look at it early 2008 and see where we're going with a sequel."

In February 2008, Weitz told The Daily Yomiuri, a Japanese newspaper, that he still hoped for the sequels' production: "at first it looked like we were down for the count because in the U.S. [the film] underperformed, but then internationally it performed [better] than expectations. So, a lot depends on Japan, frankly… I think if it does well enough here we'll be in good shape for that." Although producer Deborah Forte had, in March 2008, expressed optimism that the sequels would be made, by October 2008, the two planned sequels were officially placed on hold, according to New Line Cinema, because of financial concerns during the global recession. Sam Elliott, however, stated, "The Catholic Church ... lambasted them, and I think it scared New Line off."

In 2011, Philip Pullman remarked at the British Humanist Association annual conference that due to the first film's disappointing sales in the United States, there would not be any sequels made.

Television series[]

Main article: His Dark Materials (TV series)

In November 2015, it was announced that a reboot television series adaptation of His Dark Materials had been commissioned by the BBC due to the commercial failure of the film. The first episode, Lyra's Jordan, was released on 3 November 2019 in the UK. The first series follows the events of Northern Lights.



External links[]

Nl 02.jpg
HDM Wiki has 116 images from The Golden Compass (film).


His Dark Materials adaptations
Adaptations His Dark Materials radio playHis Dark Materials stage playHis Dark Materials TV seriesLa Belle Sauvage stage playThe Golden Compass filmNorthern Lights - The Graphic NovelThe Subtle Knife - The Graphic Novel
Music His Dark Materials Original Television SoundtrackHis Dark Materials Series 2 Original Television SoundtrackLyraThe Golden Compass soundtrackThe Musical Anthology of His Dark MaterialsThe Musical Anthology of His Dark Materials Series 2
Games The Golden Compass board gameThe Golden Compass video game