The Golden Compass is the first book in a children's adventure series by Phillip Pullman, and now turned into a big budget film with expectations if successful of it continuing similarly into a series. The story is set a magical fantasy land, a little like a warped version of Earth featuring countries with strange customs populated by strange creatures with magical powers. The main character is a girl called Lyra and much of the film is set in the vast Northern landscape of the Artic. The film is visually rich in conveying this complex world, and at times demands a large orchestral score to balance the immensity of this land. However it also gives composer Alexandre Desplat plenty of scope for his trademark scoring, both minimalist and intimate in the portrayal of the lead characters. Likewise the variety of settings demands that the composer creates a variety of consistent musical landscapes, and we hear some Middle Eastern elements and some oriental hints.
The soundtrack album opens in mysterious fashion, and moves through these various lands as the characters meet strange characters and inhabitants and the adventure unfolds through a range of episodes. The music initially plays to these characters and their interaction, with changes in tempo and scale for moments of fear and tension and in a number of action sequences. The album probably plays on two distinct levels to listeners. Overtly it is very much a generic fantasy score in a similar mode to other big budget fantasy movies such as "The Chronicles of Narnia". On the other hand fans of the composer will notice that the composer's style (particularly his idiosyncractic orchestration) gives the score that extra stylistic interest, though in a much more subtle way than John Williams' instantly recognisable style in "Harry Potter" with its melodic emphasis. The final track is "Lyra" named after the main character of the story and is written and performed by the singer Kate Bush with an ambient electronic backing. The CD album is available online at these links: Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.