Plot: Based on Philip Pullman’s best-selling novel comes the story of Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a 12-year-old girl who has been raised in a university by her uncle (Daniel Craig). Lyra sets off on a journey in this alternative world with her spirit animal by her side trying to rescue missing children and perhaps save the universe. Who’s it for: Die-hard fans of Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy will flock to this film adaptation. I would actually recommend reading the book first, because a lot of odd things are thrown at you and underexplained.
Expectations: I like fantasy films, and it’s always good to see a young girl get the chance to lead the charge, but the only thing I knew of this film/book was the controversy that it preaches atheism (by the way, it’s not apparent in the film).
SCORECARD Actors: Dakota Blue Richard as Lyra: I always feel bad when I’m about to give negative comments to a kid actor. Richard’s typical expression on her face looks more like annoyance than anything else. And her use of the magical compass quickly gets boring. Grade: 4
Nicole Kidman as Marisa Coulter: She’s evil and devoid of any real personality. The twist she’s involved in at the end seems stolen from another trilogy and has no real impact here. I will say her monkey definitely wins the creepiest daemon competition. Grade: 4
Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel: Don’t worry, he didn’t steal his name from the evil cat in “Smurfs.” The cat spells it Azriel. Totally different. If you are sitting down to watch this film because of Craig’s involvement … stop. He’s barely in it. Grade: 3
Talking: Daemons are animal spirits, dust is bad … or good, and gobblers steal your children. These are just some of the things that are barely explained. To top it off, I never got a sense of the overall mission. Grade: 3
Sights and sounds: Visually, the film does its job and then some. The daemon animals are spectacular to look at, and the final battle scene has enough twists and turns. It’s just unfortunate that there isn’t a story to back it up. Grade: 7 PLOT SPOILERS Best Scene: Bears are killing machines, Stephen Colbert taught me that. But seeing is believing, and when Iorek and the polar bear king fight it is a good show. Especially the way it ends.
Ending: It ends just like “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.” They have just begun their journey. The difference here is I was fully absorbed in that world, and “Golden Compass” never sinks in.
Random Thoughts: Why didn’t Iorek (the good polar bear) never once look for his armor after the townsfolk stole it? If the golden compass can tell the truth, why wouldn’t Lyra sit around asking it tons of questions, especially after the twist involving Marisa and Asriel? Is Hollywood forced to put Christopher Lee into all of its trilogies?
Rewatchability: Part of me really wants to study this thing to see if it all makes sense and the pieces fit together, but the smart thing to do is just read the book and hope they get the next film right.
OVERALL Fantasy books can get the royal treatment (“Lord of the Rings”) or the get tossed aside (“Eragon”). The main problem with “Golden Compass” is that it barely tries to bring you into this new world. I love the lands that can be created, but “Golden Compass” constantly acts like I should care about this or that, but doesn’t provide me with the map so I can understand what I am looking at. Sam Elliott shows up as a cowboy, who would normally be a pick-me-up, but with “Golden Compass” I just wanted to find my direction home.
Overall Grade: 4