The Golden Compass

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Golden Compass Movie Poster Image
Ambitious fantasy is too intense for young kids.
  • PG-13
  • 2007
  • 113 minutes
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 72 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 53 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Deception abounds on all sides: Lyra is instructed to lie to Mrs. Coulter and spy on members of the Magesterium. But even as she uses ruses, the film celebrates her spirited nature and resistance to authority. Heroic figures are loyal and valiant; villains are dastardly, scheming, and dressed to alert you as to their evil intentions. Lyra's intentions are always good, even if the consequences of her actions aren't.

Violence

Weapons used in battle scenes include guns, arrows, swords, clubs, chains, hooks, and explosions. Lyra witnesses an attempt to poison her uncle; in a brief scene, children are frightened and grabbed by shadowy thugs. When Lyra escapes Mrs. Coulter, she's chased by several security men; confrontation between rebels and security guards (who have snarling Dobermans) is tense, but the guards back off. Warriors accompanied by snarling wolves shoot at and capture Lord Asriel, leaving him with bloodied face. Two mechanical bugs hunt and attack Lyra and Pan. In a fit of anger, Mrs. Coulter hits her monkey daemon, causing it pain. A violent severing of child and daemon in a laboratory causes visible pain and screams from both subjects. A very intense fight between two polar bears includes some graphic and disturbing violence (one bear whacks off the other's lower jaw, then drops him dead).

Sex

Nothing explicit, but the fear of children growing up and becoming rebellious during the transition from preteen to teen insinuates a concern with puberty and sexual awareness.

Language

Minor language includes a few uses of "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Polar bear Iorek Byrnison appears drunk and drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this action-packed fantasy based on the first book in Philip Pullman's best-selling trilogy will feel threatening to young children. Animals and kids are in constant peril, and young kids will be upset by the threatened separation between the animals (daemons) and their humans. There are also many tense, violent scenes (chases; fierce, growling animals; shooting), as well as a fairly graphic battle between two enormous polar bears (one knocks the other's jaw off). And there's a major clash between children and adult troops that includes guns, arrows, swords, clubs, chains, hooks, and explosions. The main character is a 12-year-old girl who goes up against evil forces to save her friends. Although some religious groups have urged a boycott of the film based on its allegedly anti-Christian content, there is no specific language or imagery related to Christianity.

User Reviews

Adult Written byDedic8d April 9, 2008

Ok movie, but the Christian hype is very far-fetched

I have seen this movie, and I cannot believe the ridiculousness of some of CSM's Christian reviewers' comments. I'd like to offer a few FACTS ab... Continue reading
Parent of a 10 and 15 year old Written byVerde December 6, 2008

LOVED the book, the ruined the film.

I definitely think this is not appropriate for kids younger than 10-12. I also do not want to debate the religious controversy surrounding the books. My agnosti... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byA.M. June 30, 2010

Awesome!!! :D

It has some interesting themes. Instead of good vs. evil, it's freedom vs. control. nicole kidman was awesome, but dakota blue-richards is what makes the f... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bylizzie3276 May 30, 2010

good for 9+

This movie was terrible and ruined the book--which is FANTASTIC. I was so disappointed. And everyone should get over the religious thing. YOU DON'T HAVE TO... Continue reading

What's the story?

The movie opens in an alternate world version of Oxford, where Lyra lives with her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). In Lyra's world, everyone has a "daemon," an animal embodiment of his or her personality and soul. While adult daemons are "settled," children's are in flux. Lyra is troubled as her friends disappear before they can mature, apparently kidnapped by "Gobblers." She is further threatened by the Magisterium, a forbidding institution that believes Lyra is the girl foretold in a prophecy about the Golden Compass, a complex device that can answer any question truthfully -- but can only be read instinctively by one person. And, indeed, when Lyra gets the Compass, she can read it, putting her at risk from the Council's primary agent, Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman). Lyra flees the grasp of the Magisterium and embarks on a journey to find her friends with the help of a vast array of charaters, including armored polar bear Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen).

Is it any good?

The Golden Compass is heavy on plot. And with so much to cover, the editing between scenes can be choppy and the digital effects uneven. The most wonderful and cunning "effect" in the film is Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards). A 12-year-old girl surrounded by digitized creatures, spires, and sailing ships, Richards' Lyra is a singular delight, at once curious and stubborn, thoughtful and impetuous. Though she faces a series of daunting challenges that take her far from home, she remains brave, moral-minded, and smart -- a little girl much like the little girls who might be watching her on screen.

Fans of the books will notice many changes, and the characterizations of the repressive Magisterial villains may trouble those who worry about the movie's ostensible atheistic messages (Pullman has said repeatedly that he's not preaching one way or another). But all technical and philosophical complications aside, the film is buoyed by Lyra, who is more enchanting than any magic. When one adult tells her that "Sometimes you must do what others think best," she has the ready and reasonable answer, repeating what she's been taught: "I thought we were best if we were free to do as we please."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether this is really a movie for kids. It's been promoted as a family film; do you think that's accurate? What elements of the film might make it too intense for younger audiences? What values does it emphasize? Families can also discuss the concept of the daemons. What does a daemon represent? Why is the idea of being severed from their daemon so upsetting to the movie's characters? Also, if you've read the book the movie is based on, how do you think the two compare? Which do you like better and why?

Movie details

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