It's Got Explaining To Do
The Golden Compass seems to confuse intelligence with talk, talk, and more talk, and it also seems to think all a movie needs to qualify as a good fantasy is pretty sets plus a lot of cgi. Far be it from me to ask that any genre follow a template for success, but why couldn't this film include at least one decent action scene in its first half?
Maybe I wouldn't have minded if what happens otherwise engaged me, but so much of the movie is just explanatory and expository dialogues and monologues. New characters, new concepts = more explanations. And lots of backstories. Only a talking polar bear fight in the middle of the movie is enough to be rousing, but the big battle after that turns out to be one of those fights where character after character gets saved at the last minute from someone off screen.
Director Chris Weitz, who also adapted Philip Pullman's book here, doesn't appear able to handle straight fantasy -- most of the style feels cribbed from Andrew Adamson's first Chronicles of Narnia movie, and it comes across unimaginative as a result. The story's themes, particularly about how dogmatic authority depends on the removal of their subjects' self-will and consciences, are therefore served up blandly.
The movie's main weapon for better engagement lies in the hands of its appealing young star, Dakota Blue Richards, and since the ending sets up for a sequel, maybe she -- and the series -- will get a better chance to shine later, now that all the explaining has been hopefully gotten out of the way with this first run-through. (Capsule review.)
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated "PG-13" for sequences of fantasy violence.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.