The Golden Compass
Cast : Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards
Direction : Chris Weitz
Rating : ***
If we don’t make the mistake of comparing this high-concept fantasy with The Lord of the Rings series or The Chronicles of Narnia, the $150 plus-million-fuelled adventure fits the bill adequately.
Based on the first book in the cult trilogy by Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass is helmed by Chris Weitz. In fact, the writer-director of the raunchy comedies American Pie would hardly appear to be an apt choice for a fable set in a parallel 19th century-like world infested with witches, demons and a caboodle of of chatty critters.
Mind-bogglingly, the script is littered with tongue-twisting terms such as ‘magisterium’ and ‘gyptians’. And there’s something called the ‘alethiometer’, a device that reveals the truth and nothing but the truth. Such devices may have worked in the book but cinematically, they call for a major suspension of the viewer’s sense of disbelief.
The magical thingumajig is presented to a 12-year-old orphan (Richards) when she sets off on a perilous journey to an Artic wasteland to rescue her kidnapped friend. She’s accompanied by a mysterious blonde (Kidman) who might be involved in subjecting children to a cruel experiment that will result in the abolition of free will.
The plucky, pint-sized girl also encounters her scientific explorer uncle (Daniel Craig, dapper as ever), a couple of megalomaniac zealots (Christopher Lee-Derek Jacobi) and a sky-trotting Texan (Sam Elliott).
The viewer is expected to patiently sit through reams of jiggery pokery before the narrative finds its groove with a succession of action set pieces. One particularly spectacular sequence involves a no-holds- barred battle between a pair of metal-clad polar bears.
Relentlessly, the adaptation skims over the novel’s anti-religion rhetoric in favour of a display of computer-generated razzmatazz.
Clearly, Nicole Kidman is strikingly photogenic but her acting skills are hardly tapped here. Not surprisingly, the show is stolen by the charismatic young British newcomer, Dakota Blue Richards, who delivers a performance of remarkable maturity.
Neither entirely unremarkable nor exhilarating, the first chapter of the popular saga just about makes it to the goodish grade. With luck, the future installments will be more engrossing. Take a look but only for want of alternative entertainment.