The Lord of the Rings trilogy casts a long shadow and any fantasy movie made now has to work very hard to crawl out it. Although The Golden Compass had the credible trilogy of His Dark Materials by author Philip Pullman to work with, it falls woefully short of expectations. This is a big budget adventure movie that manages to create a magical world but simply does not make us care or ever really want to return.
Director Chris Weitz clearly seems bogged down by the material and slavishly remains true to the book. So much so that he merely tries to depict the narrative and leaves no room for empathy. The plot line darts all over the place and rushes to fit in every sub plot. The fact that this is just the first instalment and serves more to set up the trilogy adds to the frustration. We are presented so many strands of sub plots without getting any clear notion of what all the fuss is about.
The Golden Compass is about a world, which in many ways is similar to our own but where humans are accompanied by daemons. These are animals that host the humans soul.
There is a ruling body called the Magisterium that wants to control the humans by not allowing them to exercise their free wills. An orphan girl, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), whom many believe in for the fulfilment of some prophecy wants to rescue a friend of hers who has mysteriously disappeared. But she is enticed to go on a trip with Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) who has some ulterior motives.
The strongest point of the movie is the magical world it creates and the interesting details depicted. The movie comes close to pulling us into this world but because of its need to present the narrative, we are not allowed to soak in and luxuriate in the fantasy.
The director tries to pace the movie by not allowing any dead moments by peppering action scenes. There are two major action scenes - two huge bears duelling and a confrontation between the good guys and the bad guys. But even these are not thrilling and fall flat.
Another tragedy is that the cast has some fine actors but they are not allowed to flesh out the characters. Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman and Eva Green are all wasted here. Craig and Green have very few scenes and Kidman isnt anything more than a caricature.
The scenes are so rushed that we do not get a chance to connect with them and though they seem to think that they are on an all-important quest, we couldn`t really care less.
Most of the attention this movie got was for the mild controversy it created with the Catholic church fearing that the Magisterium represented them and that young children would be polluted with anti-god thoughts. The fear seems ungrounded now since the movie doesn`t even seem to explore any such themes. For those who have not read the books and would have done so if the movie were good enough are probably not going to want to read them now.
The Golden Compass is a mess, but it is a fine looking mess.