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  Publicity Stills of "The Golden Compass"
(Courtesy from Warner Bros)

Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Thriller
Director: Chris Weitz
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green, Clare Higgins, Ian McShane
RunTime: 1 hr 53 mins
Released By: Warner Bros
Rating: PG
Official Website: www.goldencompassmovie.com/

Opening Day: 6 December 2007


In an epic trilogy that transcends genre, author Philip Pullman invents a world parallel to ours, but with fantastic dimensions all its own. Pulse-pounding action is paired with gorgeous imagery to create a touching story in a world where demons and winged creatures live among ordinary humans, and an elusive entity called Dust has the power to unite the universes. The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass are magical tools used in the battle of good against evil in an imaginative – yet – utterly original – reworking the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man.

Movie Review:

With so many great works of literature dumbed down and neutered for the moviegoers, fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy will understandably approach this studio-approved adaptation of the saga’s first act with some trepidation. Its starts of an introduction of an alternate universe similar to our own, 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) lives a life of erudition and relative comfort as the ward of her uncle Jordan College elder Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). Against the orders of the ruling elite known as the Magisterium, the college sends their esteemed colleague deep into the Arctic Circle investigate a mysterious element intriguingly called Dust. He believes this element can bridge the gap between worlds, a thesis those in political power do not want to see proven.

Controversies surrounding the religious (or anti-religious, depending upon your point of view) implications of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy aside, director Chris Weitz’s adaptation of The Golden Compass is a definite mixed bag. At times this film soars to the heavens like Scoresby’s airship, other times it crashes to earth like a wilting flower unable to find the sun. The filmmaker can never find a consistent tone or create an exhilarating enough momentum to keep things satisfying. Yet for every disappointing turn there is a sequence of unparalleled majesty, and even though the final taste left by the picture is decidedly bittersweet my interest is piqued just enough to wonder where things are going to go next.

Granted, I’ve never read the author’s acclaimed novels, so the final outcome between this battle between the forces of humanistic free will and rigidly dogmatic fundamentalism is one I’m curious to see play out. Not that I’m probably going to get the opportunity. New Line isn’t going to finance two more adaptations if this one isn’t a smash, and considering Pullman’s trilogy doesn’t quite have the same pedigree of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis or J.K. Rowling’s set of fantastical tales I seriously doubt people are going to turn out in quite the same numbers at the multiplex.

And unfortunately I can’t really blame them. Much of Weitz’s script is unfocused, the filmmaker cramming as much exposition into each frame as he can trying to keep his running time just under two hours. But there’s too much here, too many characters, cultures, scientific marvels and spiritual miracles to keep track of without a bit more in the way of explanation. People fly in from nowhere, say a few important lines and then disappear once more without a trace. All the while little Lyra is supposed to absorb all they have to offer blindly without taking the time to ponder the consequences, making friends and enemies so quickly if you blink she’s probably got three more of each by the time you’ve reopened your eyes.

If only it all held together just tiny bit better. This is a movie simply begging for another 20 or so minutes, yearning for the director to have slowed the momentum down and taken a little extra time to flesh out and craft his characters. There is also something almost arrogant about the way Weitz chooses to end his story with a cliffhanger almost as jarring and infuriating as the one found at the tail end of Back to the Future, Part II, things so literally up in the air I actually wanted to scream in disgust.

But from the other Oxford to the ice kingdom of Svalbard, the production is impressively realised. Richards is a likeable lead and the well-judged performances of Kidman and Asriel bode well for the next two instalments.

So while The Golden Compass doesn’t have time to clarify all the book’s complexities - and Iorek’s battle to the death may prove rather too intense for the really young - over the years to come, this film will no doubt be analysed to death. It is a flawed work, and it's not a perfect translation of the book, but as a film in its own right it's well worth seeing. It’s as welcome a retreat from this old England as Hogwarts, Narnia or Middle Earth.

Movie Rating:

(A rambling emsemble of alteranate universe and magic that is just merely an invitation to future adventures.)

Review by Lokman BS


. The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007)

. Stardust (2007)

. Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix (2007)

. Eragon (2006)

. The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)

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