Almost serviceable fantasy adventure based on the first book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. On the plus side, some nifty ideas (people’s souls walk next to them in animal, or “daemon”, form), spiffy Victorian/steampunk designs, icy Nicole Kidman, and in the lead, an adorable girl (Dakota Blue Richards) with Sarah Polley eyes, trying to save her kidnapped brother. On the down side, it all feels terribly derivative, and most of the CGI isn’t up to 2007 standards — the roar and clang of a climactic ice bear smackdown had the theater cheering but the daemons especially look lousy.
Eva Green descends on a vibrating broomstick to spout fantasy gobbledigook, Sam Elliot and Daniel Craig don’t have much to do, and once you get past the peculiar specifics of Pullman’s world, the story never strays from familiar hero’s journey territory. One key moment is lifted directly from The Empire Strikes Back, a final battle restages Minas Tirith without any emotional investment, and the strained farewell doesn’t have half the rousing ring of the Sam Gamgee speeches it’s trying to emulate. Some of us thought it was a bathroom break, not the ending. There’s just enough talk of religion, authority, and free will to get me curious about the books’ purported atheist attitudes. Opens December 7.
The Golden Compass. Chris Weitz, 2007. **