Director: Chris Weitz
Writers: Chris Weitz, Philip Pullman (novel)
Cinematographer: Henry Braham
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Sam Elliott, Ian McKellan
Studio/Running Time: New Line Cinema, 113 mins.
Chemistry is everything
. Not the science kind where we learned the explosive results of mixing vinegar and baking soda, but the cinematic type that the success or failure of a film hinges on entirely. Harry Potter
had it. Star Wars
had it. The Golden Compass
tries hard to find it. With an impressive cast, some fun effects and an inventive story, all the elements are there. But the resulting mix, though often explosive, just doesn’t have the fizz to make the grade.
Based on the best selling children’s novel of same name, the movie follows the adventures of 12-year-old Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) who lives in an alternate world where a person’s soul takes the form of a talking animal. The parentless Lyra is persuaded to accompany the mysterious—and dangerous—Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) to the North. Meanwhile, her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) has already gone North to discover “dust” which could be an important link to another world. Lyra takes with her the titular golden compass which contains the power of discovering truth.
The eye candy of Lyra’s world is enjoyable to look at, sort of a Jules Vernian Golden Age with strange flying machines, sailing ships and rolling vehicles. However, the characters she meets, though odd and eccentric, bring with them sub-par performances. Sam Elliott does his best "aww, shucks" delivery as cowboy Lee Scoresby, but his performance weakens as the film progresses. Ian McKellan plays the voice of the banished polar bear Iorek Byrnison, but apes his portrayal of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings so hard that when he attempts to cross a narrow ice bridge you half expect a Balrog to reach up, dragging him into the abyss.
Most surprising is Craig's miniscule screen time despite the fact that he is billed as one of the film’s main characters. That may change in the impedning sequel, but the film could have greatly benefited from his presence, not to mention a large helping of chemistry.