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Review

Controversial ‘Golden Compass’ a mediocre adaptation of children’s book

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December 13, 2007

Much ado has been made in recent weeks about “The Golden Compass,” specifically its alleged, not-so-pleasant overtones regarding Christianity. I’ve never read the Philip Pullman book the film’s based upon or any of the others in the series, so I can’t say for sure whether Pullman is an unjustly-targeted patsy or some atheist commie hell-bent on giving Jesus a roundhouse kick to the face.

But having seen “The Golden Compass,” you can rest assured that the flick has about as much a chance of doing great damage to organized religion as Uwe Boll has of turning out a three-star movie in anyone’s lifetime.

“The Golden Compass” takes place in a world very similar yet existing parallel to ours. This is a place in which our souls stride alongside us in the form of animal companions, polar bears reign supreme in the Arctic and a shady organization called the Magisterium seeks to stamp out mankind’s free will for good. The key to accomplishing their nefarious goals lies with Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a spunky young girl who’s entrusted with the last “alethiometer,” a golden compass that has the ability to reveal the truth about anything. With the Magisterium, led by the beautiful but diabolical Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), hot on her trail, Lyra goes on the run, setting out on a quest to free a group of children kidnapped by the Magisterium for their own foul purposes and learn more about a mysterious, dust-like substance that binds all beings in all universes.

“The Golden Compass” is fueled more by the dollar signs in the eyes of the executives who gave it the green light more than by any heretical agenda. New Line seems dead-set on this film being the start of another mega-successful franchise in the “Lord of the Rings” vein, although there’s numerous moments where they come across as almost too confident in moviegoers demanding further chapters in this burgeoning saga.

So many plot twists and supporting characters are introduced before, like a five-year-old with the vegetables on his dinner plate, barely touching upon them before the ending credits roll, “The Golden Compass” sort of backs you into a position where you have no choice but to want a sequel just so all these raised questions can be answered.

As far as story goes, the film serves up the typical genre fodder (good versus evil, young kid with a destiny to fulfill, etc.), although it’s fodder that is easy on the eyes and pleasantly plotted-out. The cinematography is crisp, the production design is rather handsome, those computer-generated bears are kinda cool (especially when one’s voiced by Ian McKellen), and Richards turns in a solid performance as our young heroine, one with enough energy and moxie to overshadow Kidman’s ice-cold villainess and Daniel Craig’s ten-minute extended cameo as Lyra’s uncle.

It may not be as ideal as a return trip to Middle-Earth, but “The Golden Compass” at least puts forth a little more effort and imagination than most of the quickie fantasy cash-ins currently crowding multiplexes.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.