‘Compass’ points in wrong direction

David Hohwald

“The Golden Compass” is the latest in a stream of big-budget fantasy movies for the holiday season and seems to be trying to cash in on the previous success of such films as the “Lord of the Rings” series and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

It includes some A-list actors, lavish visuals and a coveted PG rating from the MPAA. Yet despite these, the sum comes up seriously short. “The Golden Compass,” directed by Chris Weitz, is burdened by trying to do far too much with too little time, and the result is a series of scenes that have very little to connect them.

They inter-splice CGI animals, effects and environments with ease, and the result is a movie that looks really, really good. The locales in particular are well-rendered and give a great air to the movie.

The film’s big action sequences are all created well, but one notable flaw is the lighting in the final action scene, which, while appropriate, is a bit of a distraction and makes it a bit difficult to see what is happening on screen.

All in all, though, CGI polar bears have never looked this good (Coca-Cola commercials included), and “The Golden Compass” is a new benchmark for the integration of CGI.

The acting in “The Golden Compass” is significantly less dazzling. The two big hitters for this film (Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig) are anything but. Kidman is interesting when she’s in the film, but Weitz simply does not develop her character of Mrs. Coulter enough, and what is an intriguing role gets watered down by simply not knowing enough about her.

As for Craig, he’s virtually non-existent in this film. He has a role for about five minutes in the beginning, and then he goes AWOL.

Dakota Blue Richards plays the main character, 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua, and while she is good at doing what is asked of her, the truth is Weitz really only asks her to be either rebellious or scared.

It would have been nice to see her have a little more depth. Sam Elliott is fun as Lee Scoresby, a cowboy aviator, and Sir Ian McKellen offers his significant vocal talents for Iorek the bear, but when it comes down to it, there’s not a three-dimensional character in the bunch.

This is where the real flaw of “The Golden Compass” gets put in the forefront, as the plot to this movie is downright bad, or at the very least badly executed.

The only way to describe it is “hurried”: Weitz tries to stuff a three-hour movie into a two-hour film, and the result is not pretty.

It seems like he decided to get rid of most of the back story first, resulting in the characters having little to no depth, and then he got to chopping out the transitions.

Many a time the movie cuts from one thing to another abruptly, leaving the audience behind. It does not help that the plot takes a lot of clichés from previous classics like “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings” and a few other notables.

It’s hard to find an original idea within the plot.

This piecemeal editing makes for some pretty lackluster fare because the result is an uninviting film that alienates the audience. Nothing has time to sink in, and with the plot pieced together as it is, many viewers will be confused as to what is occurring.

In fact, some of the cuts had me laughing at the ridiculousness of not using a scene to bridge gaps in the plot.

“The Golden Compass” tries to shove the plot down the audience’s throat, and this huge weakness makes for a movie that’s just no fun to watch unless one sits back and stares. I’d be remiss if I did not mention the ending, too.

The ending assumes a sequel will follow, but New Line Cinema has yet to secure a sequel for this film.

If “The Golden Compass” does not net enough money it may be passed over for a sequel, making the ending absolutely terrible.

“The Golden Compass” is a story of wasted potential. Considering the cast, the visuals and the fact that it comes from a pretty popular book series, it seemed like the film would be a sure thing.

However, Weitz’s plotting and direction tried to do too much.

In the end, they left out so much of actual story that the result is a bare-bones fantasy movie with characters that are pretty uninteresting and a story that has too many holes.

Don’t bother with this film unless you want to see some pretty PG action sequences and a story that will leave you befuddled.