- "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. 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 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.
The story takes place in an alternate world dominated by a powerful church called the Magisterium, and where part of the spirit resides outside a person as an animal companion called a dæmon. At present, poor, orphan and gyptian children are disappearing at the hands of a group that the children call the Gobblers. Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is an orphan raised at Jordan College in Oxford, while her uncle, esteemed explorer and scholar Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), is busy seeking the elusive Dust, a cosmic particle of which the Magisterium has forbidden even the mention. When Asriel returns from his latest expedition, Lyra and her dæmon Pantalaimon (Freddie Highmore) witness a Magisterium agent poison his wine. Lyra warns her uncle, saving his life; then she watches Asriel give a presentation regarding his findings on the North, where he was able to prove Dust's existence. The college gives Asriel a grant to fund another expedition that could lead to the discovery of the infinite worlds linked by Dust, which would severely undermine the Magisterium's hold on the world.
At dinner, Lyra meets Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a wealthy, powerful woman who is presented as "a friend of the college". Marisa insists on taking Lyra on a trip north as her assistant. Before Lyra leaves, Dr Carne, Master of Jordan College, entrusts her with the only remaining alethiometer, a compass-like artifact that reveals the truth. The Magisterium has seized or destroyed all the others. He instructs her to keep it secret, especially from Marisa Coulter.
Marisa takes Lyra into her flat, in London, and starts taking her to socialite dinners and parties. In her bedroom, Lyra gazes upon the alethiometer and notices that it continuously points to a lady, a lightning bolt and a baby. She does not know what to make of her observation, however, and says nothing of it to Marisa. Despite initially projecting the image of a free-spirited woman, she reveals herself to be extremely respectful of the Magisterium and its function. One night, Lyra casually mentions Dust; this puts Marisa on edge as she warns Lyra never to mention it again, and also insists that she stop carrying around the bag secretly containing the aleithiometer. Marisa's dæmon (a golden monkey) attacks Pantalaimon, causing Lyra to give in. Lyra and Pantalaimon discover that Marisa is head of the General Oblation Board, also known as the "Gobblers", who have been kidnapping local children. Lyra also learns that her best friend Roger Parslow and her gyptian friend Billy Costa have been both taken by the Gobblers.
Lyra and Pantalaimon walk in on Marisa's dæmon attempting to steal the alethiometer and they escape into the streets. The Gobblers pursue her, but she is saved by Billy's mother, who takes her to the ship of John Faa, King of the Gyptians, heading north to rescue all the captured children. Lyra shows the alethiometer to a wise Gyptian elder, Coram van Texel (Tom Courtenay), and it is revealed that she is able to decipher the device's answers.
After consulting with the Magisterium agent, Marisa sends two mechanical spy-flies after Lyra. One is batted away but the other is caught and sealed in a can by Farder Coram, who explains that the spy-fly has a sting with a sleeping poison. Meanwhile, Lord Asriel has reached Svalbard, the kingdom of the panserbjørn, but he is captured by Samoyed tribesmen hired by Mrs. Coulter.
One night, Lyra is visited on the ship by a witch queen, Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green). She tells Lyra that the missing children are in an experimental station called Bolvangar. At a northern port, Lyra is befriended by a Texan aeronaut named Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott), who advises her to hire himself and his friend Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellen), an armoured bear that Lee has come to rescue. Once a prince of his people, but now exiled in shame, the giant polar bear has been tricked out of his armour by the local townspeople. Using the alethiometer, Lyra tells Iorek where to find his armour. After recovering his armour, Iorek joins the Gyptian trek northward, along with Lee.
While the group is camped for the night, Lyra rides on Iorek's back to an abandoned building the alethiometer pointed her toward. There, Lyra finds an escaped, cowering Billy separated from his dæmon named Ratter and realises that is what the Gobblers are doing to the kidnapped children, something they call "intercision". Lyra reunites Billy with his mother just as the group is attacked by Samoyeds, who capture Lyra. Iorek and Lee follow her in Lee's airship. Taken to the bear king Ragnar Sturlusson (Ian McShane), Lyra tricks him into fighting Iorek one on one. At first, Ragnar, who had already beaten Iorek while usurping his throne, seems to have the upper hand in the fight, but Iorek eventually manages to kill his rival, becoming the new and rightful king.
Iorek carries Lyra to a thin ice bridge near Bolvangar, but only Lyra is able to cross over before the bridge breaks. Upon reaching the station, Lyra is welcomed in and taken to eat dinner with the children, where she is reunited with Roger. While sneaking around, Lyra hears Mrs. Coulter tell the station scientists that Asriel has escaped capture and set up a laboratory, but Magisterium soldiers are on their way to arrest and execute him for heresy. She also hears the scientists talk about their experiments to sever the bond between a child and his or her dæmon. Caught spying, Lyra and Pantalaimon are thrown in the intercision chamber, and end up unconscious. On seeing Lyra in the chamber, Mrs. Coulter rescues her and takes her to her quarters.
When Lyra wakes up, Mrs. Coulter explains to Lyra how, in her and the Magisterium's view, the intercision is needed to save the children from the corrupting influence of the Dust. She also reveals she is Lyra's mother, but was forced to give her away because at the time of her birth she was not married. Lyra correctly guesses that Asriel is her father. When Mrs. Coulter asks for the alethiometer, Lyra gives her the can containing the spy-fly instead. The fly stings Mrs. Coulter, knocking her and her dæmon out. Lyra runs to the room with the intercision machine and manages to destroy it, setting off a series of explosions that tear the facility apart.
Outside, the fleeing children are attacked by Tartar mercenaries and their wolf dæmons. The battle is joined by Iorek, Lee Scoresby, the Gyptians, and a band of flying witches led by Serafina Pekkala. The Tartars are defeated and the children are rescued. Rather than returning south, Lyra, Roger, Iorek, Lee and Serafina fly further north in search of Asriel. Confirming Serafina's prophecy of an upcoming war with Lyra at the centre, Lyra is determined to fight the Magisterium and stop their plans, which include taking over all the other worlds in the universe.
- Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra "Silvertongue" Belacqua
- Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter
- Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel
Jordan College staff
- Jim Carter as John Faa
- Tom Courtenay as Farder Coram
- Clare Higgins as Ma Costa
- Steven Loton as Tony Costa
- Michael Antoniou as Kerim Costa
- Mark Mottram as Jaxer Costa
- Paul Antony-Barber as Bolvangar Doctor
- Jason Watkins as Bolvangar Official
- Jody Halse as Bolvangar Orderly
- Hattie Morahan as Sister Clara
- John Bett as Thorold
- Sam Elliott as Lee Scoresby
- Christopher Lee as First High Councillor
- Edward de Souza as Second High Councillor
- Simon McBurney as Fra Pavel
- Derek Jacobi as Magisterial Emissary
- Freddie Highmore as the voice of Pantalaimon
- Kristin Scott Thomas as the voice of Stelmaria
- Kathy Bates as the voice of Hester
Differences between the novel and 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.
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 2010 or 2011, 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.
- Main article: His Dark Materials (TV series)
In November 2015, it was announced that a television series adaptation of His Dark Materials had been commissioned by BBC One due to the failure of the film. The series is expected to air in 2019 and for the first series to follow the course of Northern Lights.