The only way to complete this mini Northern Lights/The Golden Compass series is to do a rewatch of the film and see if the concerns I had of the original trailer were unfounded. The short version is it is better than I remembered but does have a couple of major issues stopped it ever becoming a good film.
Beware spoilers for The Northern Lights/The Golden Compass below
The three things I said looked good from the trailer – the choice of actors, the daemons and epic look of the film – are very good in the final film.
The main cast couldn’t be better with Dakota Blue Richards playing Lyra, Nicola Kidman as Mrs Coulter and Daniel Craig rounding out the main three characters Lord Asriel. The rest of the cast is filled with (cheaper) British actors filling out small but key roles with great performances.
The film is beautiful shoot with the ten-year old CGI still looking realistic. The fact I didn’t even think about the daemons on this re-watch shows how good the effects are.
There is bad which splits into two main areas. The first issue is that some of the child actors aren’t great. They look like kids reading the script rather than characters living in a world. The main reason for this is the other (if not the) major issue with the film. An issue so bad it gets its own heading!
The script so terrible it drags the film down with it. The biggest issue is that it doesn’t understand the book it is adapting. Northern Lights is a YA book before the term was used. While the main character is 12 year old Lyra, the themes are much more mature with moralistically grey characters, complicated ideas and an ending involving a child being killed.
The script however, seems to be aiming for the same audience as Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone and so spends the films trying to explain ideas and relationships to its audience. The worst example is when Lyra tells Ma Costa that her son is Billy Costa – I think she would know that!
It is for similar reasons that they cut off the end of the book because it was too dark and instead goes out with a badly written dialogue about getting some sleep!
The big thing I talked about in the trailer discussion which i haven’t touched on here is the none mentions of religion. Just like the trailer, there is no direct mention of religion in the film. However, on this re-watch this bothered me much less. In the film, The Magisterium takes the place of the Church from the book and works just as well. Whether the Magisterium would have worked in the sequels we’ll never know.