“I propose to discover a world much like our own in a parallel universe.”
Gobblers, Panserbjørne, intercision, and little personality reflectors called daemons fill the fantasy The Golden Compass. This rapid-fire epic often feels more like a battle among ideologies than a fight between good and evil, which leaves the overall experience empty. Adapted from Philip Pullman’s novels known as the Dark Materials trilogy, this title alone probably causes controversy, especially for young viewers. This first installment (known as Northern Lights in Great Britain) centers on an alternative world full of well-played characters who almost salvage the film.
Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, Casino Royale) has a great, yet incredibly short performance as Lord Asriel who searches for the source of the mysterious element known as Dust. Craig has great presence in his limited expedition sequences as filmmakers give viewers plenty of eye candy backed by a weak, seemingly watered down story. The antagonistic Mrs. Coulter, strongly played by the statuesque Nicole Kidman, also plays an important part in the Magisterium power struggle. Deception, seduction, and greed all play into her motives as she sees Lyra playing a role in her master plan.
Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) plays a key role as she’s given the golden compass (or alethiometer), a key informative element in the story. Other characters include Serafina Pekkala, played by Craig’s Casino Royale co-star Eva Green, Lee Scoresby, played by Sam Elliot, and Iorek Byrnison, an armored polar bear voiced by Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen. Another Lord of the Rings alum (it’s a New Line Cinemas film) Christopher Lee also appears in a very short role as the First High Councilor.
The ending definitely promotes continuation, but will a tepid domestic box office opening quell the remaining installments, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass? A 25.8 million dollar opening is large for any film, but not when compared to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (65.5 million dollar opening) and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (72.6 million dollar opening). Even author Pullman is currently working on a sequel to his Materials trilogy, a risky endeavor when the film series might be in jeopardy.
Filmmakers want to leave audiences wanting more until the future installments are made (they could be waiting a very long time if the writer’s strike continues). The action sequences, including a nifty polar bear battle with clever strategy, are often appealing, but don’t transition well into the story. Good special effects and great acting can’t quite overcome the short, summarized story. Other similar films like Lions For Lambs suffer the same fate here – interesting doesn’t always translate into entertaining. This fast-paced 115 minute film was adapted for the screen with director Chris Weitz’s screenplay. Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie) can handle the material, but the story seems shortened and underdeveloped. Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence.