Friday, December 7, 2007

Questions about "The Golden Compass"

Summary: "The Golden Compass," based on one part of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, is the latest entry into a teeming fantasy field that remains dominated by "The Lord of the Rings" movies. Pitched at younger audiences, this one seems a slightly generic helping of fantasy that includes a supposedly controversial anti-church spin. The Magisterium, an organization that wants to control everything, seems an obvious reference to the Catholic Church. Those who want an anti-religion message may be disappointed by the movie's lack of bite, and those who take offense probably won't be mollified. Most audiences probably will be too busy watching the movie's CGI-created animals to care. Meanwhile, "The Golden Compass" left me with many questions:

1. The movie suggests that the characters who occupy its alternate universe all have souls that manifest as animals. Are these so-called "daemons" housebroken? Are we to believe that people have to clean up after their own souls? Does one paper train one's "daemon" before letting it run loose in the house?

2. Why does a fighting polar bear with the consonant-heavy name of Iorek Byrnison (voice by Ian McKellen) need to wear armor? But, hey, who's complaining? Watching ice bears snarl and grapple proves one of the movie's more involving diversions.

3. Is the apparently evil Mrs. Coulter (a beautifully blonde Nicole Kidman) related to that other Coulter woman? Kidman's character's soul manifests as a monkey. Draw whatever conclusions you wish.

4. What led the money to director Chris Weitz, whose previous credits include "American Pie" and "About a Boy?" For the record, Weitz does a decent job, but the movie concludes in unsatisfying fashion, leaving loose ends dangling shamelessly in hopes that audience response will justify a sequel.

5. The movie's heroine is a 12-year-old girl named Lyra Belaqua. Don't you think the actress who gamely plays Lyra -- Dakota Blue Richards -- has a better name? Lyra's shape-shifting "daemon" is called Pantalaimon.

6. I know it's a bit off the subject, but maybe not. Would the "Wizard of Oz" have been a better movie with CGI-created flying monkeys?

7. OK, so "Golden Compass" passes muster as this season's helping of computer-generated fantasy, but how many more of these movies do we need? Let me venture an answer: As many as it takes to bolster Ian McKellen's bank account.

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