‘Compass’ fun but lacks direction

2007-12-10 00:00

Ok, let’s get something over with. Yes, this movie has anti-religious overtones. And no, it’s not going to turn your kid into a raging atheist. The tiresome controversy over Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy — The Golden Compass is the first book — has been massively overstated. I don’t think any child is going to notice subtexts when there are pacy action, talking, brawling bears and beautiful CGI to be had, all of which this movie lays on in spades.

Sassy young Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) runs wild as a ward of Oxford University … well, it’s not quite Oxford as we know it, because Lyra lives in a parrallel universe, much like ours, and yet very different.

Lyra’s life changes when she is given a compass that can tell the truth, and hears her adventurer uncle Lord Asriel mention a mysterious substance called Dust. And so begin her adventures, running from a controlling religious authority called the Magisterium, to the frozen wastes of Norway, with the help of wonderful friends, including an armoured bear.

The Golden Compass has what made the Rings trilogy strong: it sticks (fairly) faithfully to the book and brings to life what readers already see on the inside of their eyelids. The casting is excellent. Its weakness is that it only has 113 minutes to do this, and so the story, while action-packed, feels a little breathless. It also lacks the Rings’s smoothness: fine, if inconsistent, perfomrances are let down by choppy editing.

The CGI gets a bit much in places and the action tends to lag and then speed up. Still, this is good old-fashioned fantasy adventure and ought to keep the little ones riveted.

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