Golden Compass lacks direction

The movie primarily follows the same pattern: Lyra gets into trouble; her friends save her. Lyra and her friends save the day.

Let’s make one thing clear: The Golden Compass is New Line Cinema’s last-ditch attempt at milking all it can from the epic fantasy franchise. Desperately hoping to make Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy into another successful Lord of the Rings, this recent attempt falls flat on its back, inspite of the movie’s ferociously cuddly polar bears.

The Golden Compass, the first in Pullman’s trilogy about a girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), explores a phenomenon called “Dust.” A Harry Potter-esque heroine, Lyra is an orphan whose uncle is the gallant Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). The sumptuous Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), the archetypal villain, is a pawn of “the Magisterium,” which seeks to thwart the freethinking effects of Dust.

Forced to compact a chunky 400-page novel, director Chris Weitz is unable to develop the characters or create the same effect the book did. Scenes fly past in a slew of exaggerated computer animations-leaving viewers wondering if the movie took place within a few days.

For viewers who haven’t read the books, the film is confusing and tedious. The movie primarily follows the same pattern: Lyra gets into trouble; her friends save her. Lyra and her friends save the day. And haphazardly mixed in is a scene where the polar bear warrior Iorek rips the jaw off a rival- something sure to rouse those asleep.

If the acting were this film’s saving grace, this review would have ended long ago. While Kidman is perfect(eerily in fact) for her villainous role, others are not so aptly cast. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Lord Asriel amounts to only a few minutes of hyped- up screen time, and Richards’s depiction of Lyra merely requires her to act sulky and defiant.

While debate over the film’s supposed anti-Catholic themes spawned the Catholic League to demand a boycott, Weitz’s dilution of Pullman’s atheist premise takes away from the film’s overall impact. Named “the Church” in the book, the tyrannical regime is simply “the Magisterium” in the film adaptation.

It looks like New Line won’t get its wish this season- The Golden Compass doesn’t offer much hope for holiday blockbuster status. Unlike the movie, a magical polar bear/witch/Gyptian/aeronaut won’t swoop in at the right moment to save the day.

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