Movie Guy: Controversial movie is a cool holiday treat

Published 5:49 pm Thursday, December 6, 2007

“The Golden Compass”

New Line Cinema

Directed by Chris Weitz

Starring Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliot, Ian McKellen, Freddy Highmore and Eva Green

Rated PG-13

3 Stars

I read Phillip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy some years back, and remember thinking that these three young adult novels were destined to make a great series of films one day.

The folks over at New Line Cinema obviously agree, and as they aren’t having much luck convincing Peter Jackson to return to Middle Earth with “The Hobbit,” they seem to have settled on Pullman’s stories as their big holiday movie offering for the next few years.

The problem is that the Catholic Church has decided to boycott the movies because the author is an unabashed atheist and the bad guys in the film are obviously modeled on the church.

I’ll leave that issue to parents; all I can say is that unlike the novel, the author’s personal beliefs don’t really intrude upon the film, which is much more plot-centric. “The Golden Compass” has all the right elements to be a monster hit, and while the film certainly has its problems, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure that will appeal to young and old alike.

Set in a parallel universe of sorts, this is the story of a young girl named Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) who is given a magical compass that foretells the truth. Nicole Kidman plays Mrs. Coulter, an official at the Magesterium, the Orwellian group of religious zealots who run the world.

Mrs. Coulter wants the golden compass, Lyra won’t give it to her so she flees and begins an epic adventure that brings her into contact with flying cowboys, warrior witches and sentient, armored polar bears. These giant mercenary bears are a real CGI treat, although parents should be warned that one of their battles in particular might be too intense for the younger kiddies.

Also very intense, and very good, is Kidman playing the icy cool villainess of the movie. I can imagine that she’ll give more than a few kids nightmares over the next couple of months.

Pullman and director Chris Weitz also rate a dream mention, as they bring to life a magical world that is a joy to trek through. The bottom line is that “The Golden Compass” makes for top-notch fantasy cinema.

As is the case in many movies based on a novel, “The Golden Compass” does feel as if it’s struggling to get all the parts crammed into a reasonable running time.

Characters come and go a bit to abruptly, and the ending (which stops three chapters before the book does) leaves you desperate for a resolution. Still, it’s better to have too much than not enough, and “The Golden Compass” is jam-packed full of wonderful characters, magical landscapes and high adventure. Catholic Church officials might not be happy to hear it, but this is a very cool holiday treat.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News.” Sean welcomes your comments via e-mail at

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