He’s not the messiah, etc

With yer Radcliffes and yer Grints of this world growing up into not-quite-as-rubbish actors in the cash machine that I am legally obliged to call the Potter phenomenon, there’s a new set of kids on the block. No, not the tedious Narnia tosh again, at least not yet; now we’ve got the parallel world of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, as realised in The Golden Compass (Northern Lights being too subtle a title for the U. S. of etc., or maybe they were worried about possible confusion with the 1985 “Canadian supergroup” of the same name).

I do read books, honestly, but I haven’t read Northern Lights. I may get round to it some day, since I have a soft spot for the parallel universe/alternate history genre. However, I suspect that day should have been before yesterday, when I saw the film along with Chris, Melanie, Louise and Mikey.

Unlike JK’s oeuvre, not I understand deeply troubled by the wonders of a multi-layered storyline, there’s a well-known religious allegory in Pullman’s work. And, praise be to Dawkins, it’s not the CS Lewis perspective of magically resurrecting lions seducing buck-toothed children through the preaching of dental treatment or whatever it was. Here we’ve got talking animal demons and a good old adventure romp for the kids, with the talky intrigue and allegory to keep the sniffy grown-ups amused.

But there are flaws in the film: kids, dialogue, pacing. The kid problem is the usual one: I don’t think there’s a convincing British child actor under 13. We don’t have any Dakota Fannings or Haley Joel Osments, sadly. The lead actor, Dakota Blue Richards (what’s with all the Dakotas?), isn’t bad but isn’t that great either.

The dialogue is generally OK, but every now and then it goes a bit Basil Exposition. And I think it does so because they wanted to keep the pace up: cutting the “boring bits” to the bone to keep the running time under two hours. That being, I presume, the maximum time between toilet visits for overexcited preteens. Consequently the film feels a little rushed.

In the cinema I was pleased to note the general absence of noisy kids. Only one screamer dragged out temporarily by a harassed parental unit, but then I too would have been scared aged fourish by the sight of armoured polar bears yards from a front row seat. I did hear a constant subdued commentary from some mini-Motty girls old enough to know better in the row behind us, though it was not enough to rouse me from my traditional British reserve.

As is now apparently law for all film trilogies, there’s an appearance by Christopher Lee. Bizarrely only a single line. I don’t believe he was CGI, though as Mikey said, they’ve probably scanned every inch of him in case he’s, er, corporeally unavailable for sequels.

Though not confirmed, I assume this film will be followed up with adaptations of the other two books. It’s interesting and exciting enough to earn back its $180 million budget (Charlie Chaplin used to make his films alone, you know, for a farthing and a bowl of porridge). And I’d like to see what happens next. Or maybe I should just read the books?

Avaragado’s rating: four gobstoppers

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