Counting Down Family-Friendly Steampunk Movies: The Golden Compass (2007)

When we changed over to the new look for the Journal, many posts mysteriously disappeared. This included a ton of great content for kids and young adults, which I thought could be helpful right now with all the rugrats at home. So here it is again, a look at The Golden Compass film.

For die-hard fans, His Dark Materials (known as the Golden Compass trilogy in the US), wouldn’t technically fit into the definition of Steampunk. However, it was actually among the very first books to be marketed using the term Steampunk, so it is definitely part of the canon, and the visuals of the film do a lot to underscore the links.

The series is set in the present/near future so steam power is a thing of the past and the story has nothing to do with Victorian England or an alternate history, but the parallel universe Lyra Belacqua inhabits has some decidedly Steampunk elements to it. The images in this post are all from the 2007 film release of The Golden Compass.

GC carriage

First, England gets “punked.” Lyra lives at Jordan College within Oxford University, which doesn’t exist in our universe. She later travels to an alternative London with dirigibles floating over head and horseless hansom cabs, apparently their answer to the automobile.

The spaces that she inhabits in while in the power of the evil Mrs. Coulter remind me a lot of the work of Alfonse Mucha (1860-1939).

GC Muchagolden-compass-railing

There are also so some fun alternative technologies, for instance, a projector (which they call a spirit projector) that uses glassy orbs to create 3D, moving images of of the mysterious Dust (which is basically powdered sentience). The bad guys also employ “spy flies” which are clockwork insects “with a bad spirit pinned to it” and sent to locate Lyra and her band.

Unlike the books and the new TV remake, which get increasingly darker and more sinister, the movie is a fun one to watch with kids. (Though fair warning, the big showdown between the talking polar bears does have an “oh dag!” moment of violence.)

GC projector

 

Fun Facts and Context

  • The Golden Compass was originally released under the name Northern Lights.
  • The trilogy explores contemporary concepts in science such as quantum entanglement (lodestone resonator), dark matter (dust is invisible without the amber spyglass even though in the Golden Compass film they depict it clearly as visible by the naked eye) and human evolution (how did we become “more” than animals? Where did sentience come from?)
  • The Golden Compass film stops short of the plot of the first book. The real ending of the Golden Compass is darker and sadder, but I think they stopped where they did in hopes of continuing the trilogy and that needed a more hopeful note.
  • Unfortunately, the films of The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass were never made. Many people, including actors in the film, blamed the Catholic church for killing the series. I admit that I watched the movie before I read the books and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t continue and why the church would protest so much. Then I read the books and I totally get it. (Spoiler alert) Even if the story wasn’t overtly about killing god (or at least the one posing as god), there are multiple scenes of a violence against children, like in Citegazze (a city in another alternative universe), that would have been hard to stomach on the silver screen.

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