Golden compass points to family fun

The Golden Compass Starring: Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliott, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Jim Carter, Simon McBurney, Jack Shepherd, Derek Jacobi, Christopher Lee, and the voices of Freddie Highmore, Sir Ian McKellen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ian McShane, Kathy Bates; Dir: Chris Weitz; Cert: PG; 1hr 53mIt's one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year and now it's finally here.

Andrew Clarke

The Golden Compass Starring: Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Sam Elliott, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Jim Carter, Simon McBurney, Jack Shepherd, Derek Jacobi, Christopher Lee, and the voices of Freddie Highmore, Sir Ian McKellen, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ian McShane, Kathy Bates; Dir: Chris Weitz; Cert: PG; 1hr 53m

It's one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year and now it's finally here. The big questions are has been worth the wait and does it live up to Philip Pullman's best-selling novel? The answer is an unequivocal yes - but with the proviso that any screenplay can never translate the background detail that Pullman injects into his novels but what Chris Weitz has to omit from the narrative he more than makes up for in sheer visual inventiveness as he completely redesigns the parallel earth that Pullman's heroes inhabit.

Chris Weitz has created a majestic film that sits neatly between the fantasy of Lord of the Rings and the sweet other-worldiness of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. He and Philip Pullman have created a world that's a cross between Victorian London and Macmillan's “You've Never Had It So Good” Britain of the 1950s.

For those who haven't yet laid their hands on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy yet, this is the story of Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) who has been made a ward of Oxford University by her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) - a dangerous free-thinker who seeking to over-turn the teachings of the all-powerful Magisterium, who control all-aspects of life on this alternate Earth.

On a polar expedition he has discovered that a hitherto invisible dust has been seen to flow from other dimensions through an individual's daemon into everyone on earth - allowing free-will and free-thought.

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The Magisterium, ruled over by Derek Jacobi, declares this to be heresy and not only wants Lord Asriel silenced but they want all the children to be split from their daemons. In this parallel world every human being has a familiar or a daemon which accompanies them everywhere - they serve as their conscience or inner voice.

While they are children, a daemon can change shape at will before settling on a suitable match for the personality of the individual. The Magisterium believe that by separating a child from its daemon they can halt a child's emotional and intellectual development - they can stop free-will.

To achieve this they employ Mrs Coulter, a charming if cold, icy-blonde member of the educated elite (Nicole Kidman) who oversees the kidnapping of street children and children from the lower classes so that daemon severing process can be perfected. On a visit to Oxford she comes into contact with Lyra and responds to her wayward spirit and invites her to accompany her on a trip north to the kingdom of the Ice Bears.

Lyra is given a Golden Compass by the Master of Oxford University (Jack Shepherd) in order to always see the truth. This device helps her but also places her in great danger as Mrs Coulter will stop at nothing to acquire the device - while Lyra sets about trying to find and free the missing children.

It's an epic tale which spans several continents - and its told with loads of imagination. The photography and the visuals are just breath-taking. The CGI is blended seamlessly with live action, model shots and location footage, so the whole thing is very convincing. You'll believe that we have airships over London. Also the computer creation of polar bears is very convincing.

As with the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series - the cast list reads like a who's who of British Equity - augmented by Anglo-Aussie Nicole Kidman, American Sam Elliott and Britain's favourite French actress Eva Green - who is very seductive as the witch, Serafina Pekkala. The performances are universally first-rate.

But, it is young Dakota Blue Richards as the headstrong Lyra and Nicole Kidman as the cooly menacing Mrs Coulter who command the film. They set the tone, sweep up the audience and carry us along with them into a tale of travellers, battling ice bears, huge Cossack armies, daemons and familiars. They inhabit a world full of bizarre horseless carriages, airships and strange Victorian style gadgets and gizmos. The Golden Compass itself is a wonderful piece of retro-design.

It's a wonderful family movie which will delight and enchant the whole family - with the possible exception of the very young. But it is a film which requires you pay attention as during the first half of the film there is fair amount of scene setting - not only for this film but for the two films that will follow.

However, your attention will be well rewarded and I, for one, cannot wait until the next instalment. Excellent seasonal entertainment.

****

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