Out of its element

Rated 1.0

The Golden Compass, long-awaited adaptation of Philip Pullman’s first novel in the His Dark Materials series, arrives with a lot of controversy. Religious zealots are proclaiming the film blasphemous—a big budget glorification of atheism. To those folks, I say: Grow up and get a life! Jesus has bigger issues on his mind than some stupid fantasy movie, so go earn your cut of the weekly offering by preaching love, kindness, tolerance … all that shit you seem to forget about once your arrogant asses show up on some CNN talk show. I don’t know … just a thought.

As for The Golden Compass … it’s BORING!

No, I did not read the novel before seeing the film, and nothing in this shimmering disaster made me want to read it, either. A pointless, meandering plot offers none of the provocative theological questions the novel allegedly proposed; it’s an expensive journey into nowhere. As this film played out before me, I found nothing besides a polar bear smack-down even remotely engaging. This thing is a mess.

The film presents a sort of alternate universe where things are run by something called the Magisterium. In the novels, this is supposed to be organized religion, but director Chris Weitz doesn’t have the balls to present things as such, so the organization becomes a bunch of old British codgers (including Christopher Lee, who costars in seemingly every fantasy film series ever made). I think, at least I’m quite sure, that the organization is kidnapping children and separating them from their “daemons.”

The daemons accompany all humans, and when humans are children the daemons take the form of talking animals. In the case of Lyra (newcomer Dakota Blue Richards), the film’s young female protagonist, she’s accompanied by a shape-shifter daemon named Pan (voice of Freddie Highmore). Pan can take the shape of a cat, a ferret, a moth and a freaking lungfish for all I know. Having little insight into the series, it took me a while to figure out that all of the different animals were the same character. It’s kind of frustrating when you get down to it.

Daniel Craig plays Asriel, Lyra’s uncle, who gives her the Golden Compass, and the significance of this particular navigational instrument mostly eluded me. I think it’s a truth-telling machine. Lyra would ask it questions, and then it would play a little movie showing her the answer. The thing provides little along the lines of dramatic excitement. Producers could’ve saved some money by having Lyra shake one of those Magic Eight Balls after posing a quandary.

While Asriel is essentially the movie’s Obi Wan Kenobi, Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) is its Darth Vader. She shows up looking stunning in a golden dress, befriends Lyra, takes her on a trip, and eventually reveals herself as evil. Because Compass is more or less a set up for an intended trilogy, the Coulter character is introduced with slight development. She’s given very little to do, so all of you 12-year-old Nicole Kidman fans are going to feel shortchanged.

As Lyra journeys to wherever the hell she is going, she’s accompanied by a big whiskey-drinking polar bear (voice of Ian McKellen). McKellen’s polar bear fights another polar bear for supremacy in some Polar Bear Land I could really care less about. The CGI fight looks good, but only diehard novel fans will really discern what the fight means.

This lacks the depth of the Harry Potter series and even pales in comparison to the overbearing Chronicles of Narnia. New Line was hoping to have their big money follow-up to The Lord of the Rings series. I think they had better make nice with Peter Jackson tomorrow, and get that new movie of The Hobbit on the fast track. The Golden Compass isn’t going to pay the bills. It will, however, give some obsessed people with too much time on their hands something to grouse about.