Visually appealing, the film loses its charm in the transition to the screen
The movie industry, as with all forms of entertainment, goes through trends. In recent times, the very focused trend has been: "epic movie versions of controversial novels with religious undertones set in archaic worlds." These include well recognized names like "The Lord of the Rings," "The Chronicles of Narnia" and most recently, the mediocre film adaptation of Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass," as brought by director Chris Weitz's creative vision.
Young Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is raised as an orphan under the patronage of Oxford's Jordon College in a parallel Earth, different in culture and populace, and most imaginatively, daemons, the souls of all people that appear as animals walking beside them. In this parallel earth, the overbearing Magistrate attempts to control all aspects of life, especially the mention of a substance called Dust. Lyra's uncle, Lord Azriel (Daniel Craig), hypothesizes that Dust connects many parallel universes, and seeks to research it further in the Arctic North, defying the Magistrate. Lyra is placed in the middle of the escalating conflict between Azriel and the Magistrate when she is taken as an assistant to Ms.Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a beautiful, but cold Magistrate member. Before leaving, Lyra is given an alethiometer, or golden compass, an apparatus that reveals the truth in the hands of a knowledgeable user. Escaping from Ms.Coulter, who seeks to acquire the device for herself, Lyra goes on a quest to save her friends, Roger (Ben Walker) and Billy (Charlie Rowe), who are taken by the Magistrate-backed "Gobblers," and carried off to the North for experimentation with Dust. Along the way, Lyra picks up many an odd friend, notably Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellen) the armored bear and Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot), the Texan "aeronaut," ultimately adding to the movie's quirky appeal.
Most aficionados of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, of which "The Golden Compass" is the first novel, will be disappointed with Weitz's creative decisions concerning the film's content. Undoubtedly to prevent bad press for the film, most of the religious undertones of the book are removed, with no mention of "The Authority," the God-figure of Pullman's books. Without this aspect, the movie loses the depth of understanding that made the novel more than just a children's tale.
The acting quality is a mixed box. Kidman makes a devilishly good looking and cruel Ms. Coulter, down to the refined mannerisms and cold demeanor. For the three scenes in which he appears, Craig simply wears the all-knowing smirk he developed in "Casino Royale" and looks cool. Richards is slightly disappointing as Lyra, as her close-up facial expressions, meant to portray a certain emotion, all seem to be quizzical in nature. Overall however, with the additions of McKellen and Elliot as supporting characters, the cast rounds out fairly well.
"The Golden Compass" is still far from a complete bust. As a standalone film, especially with its exceptional graphics, it fares pretty well. The landscapes are mesmerizing, from the classically aristocratic cities and futuristic airships of gleaming metal to the haunting tundra, which has all the qualities of a evocative lunar landscape during the film's many night scenes. Though not the only all-CGI characters in recent years, Iorek and his fellow armored bears are still impressive, especially in the movie's many battle scenes. Speaking of epic battle scenes, "The Golden Compass" is rife with them. The most visually impressive is the final fight, between an army of coonskin hat-wearing, Russian-accented Tartars and an amalgamated mass of witches, Iorek the armored polar bear and gypsy traders.
"The Golden Compass" is a movie worth seeing if you're not going to be bothered by the glaring differences between the script and the original novel. Armored bears and Dust particles seem just enough to distract the viewer for the film's two hour run, in just the right way.
The Golden Compass is rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence. Now playing everywhere.
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