‘The Golden Compass’ barely pleases

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

If you’re a fan of those Coke commercials featuring cuddly polar bears, “The Golden Compass” will be your holiday pleasure. But if you’re grownup and just too weary to invest in another kid fantasy franchise, you’re liable to walk out like I did, thinking: So what?

I mean, has “Harry Potter” spoiled us for fantasies the way “The Godfather” spoiled us for Mafioso movies?

On the other hand, this handsomely mounted film, playing everywhere, sports a good many strong points. It’s based on the first volume in Philip Pullman’s award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy, and has caused something of a dust-up from the ever-blabbifying fanatical religious right wing.

First off, it’s a quest-type adventure, starring newcomer Dakota Blue Richards (who beat out 10,000 other perky young English girls in open auditions) and a large band of stars that include Nicole Kidman as the villainess, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Tom Courtenay and many others voicing a variety of animals.

The plot is nice and juicy and complex; suffice to say she sets out on her quest heading North, aided by a truth-telling compass, an armored bear, Sam Elliott, and her own personal demon.

The “demon” is where the religious controversy comes in. In this gal’s own particular parallel universe, everyone has a “demon” – their own soul, which appears as a totem shape-shifting animal that is always with them and speaks to them. That’s a pretty interesting idea, if you ask me, and just one of the rather unique premises in this film. In fact, if you’ve finished all the Harry Potter novels and are at loose ends, I’d suggest trying Pullman’s trilogy.

Director Chris Weitz pulls no punches, and the film gets quite violent at times, so it may not be appropriate for the very young. But if your children are old enough to read the novel, I think they’ll quite enjoy the movie, and the big Battle of the Bears will have them hopping out of their seats. Watch that they don’t spill the popcorn, please.

As our spunky little heroine trudges across the frozen tundra on a mission to save a group of children kidnapped by a mysterious organization, the action heats up and the computer-generated images meld seamlessly with the real-life shots.

Don’t expect total closure on this one; after all, it’s the first of three. But besides the lengthy setup, the shape-shifting of the demons is a bit confusing until you become used to wearing your soul on your shoulder. And the voices of the ephemeral critters are well handled by the likes of Ian McShane, Ian McKellen, Kathy Bates and Freddie Highmore.

I’m beginning to think that juvenile adventure fantasy franchises are beginning to play out. We’ll see how this one does at the box office over the holidays before looking elsewhere. Hey, maybe Dirty Cowboy movies are making a comeback!

Meanwhile, back at the Dixie:

Ahhh, the perfect Christmas gift – a thriller from Stephen King! Yes, his latest horrorfest, “The Mist,” is currently at the Dixie in Downtown Staunton. And if you think plain old shopping at the supermarket is a nightmare, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.


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