'The Golden Compass' The first chapter of Philip Pullman's epic His Dark Materials trilogy comes to the big screen, with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig as parental figures decidedly at odds — and Dakota Blue Richards as the girl at the center of it all.
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Review

'The Golden Compass'

Dakota Blue Richards plays 12-year-old orphan Lyra Belacqua, the smart, rebellious heroine of The Golden Compass. Laurie Sparham/New Line Cinema hide caption

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Laurie Sparham/New Line Cinema

Dakota Blue Richards plays 12-year-old orphan Lyra Belacqua, the smart, rebellious heroine of The Golden Compass.

Laurie Sparham/New Line Cinema
  • Director: Chris Weitz
  • Genre: Fantasy, Drama
  • Running Time: 113 minutes

An epic fantasy adventure with a girl at its center! Heavens, what's the world coming to?

Or rather, what's some other world coming to: Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) acquires the title gizmo — an "alethiometer," which tells the truth if you can learn to interpret it — in an alternate universe. And Philip Pullman's elaborately imagined trilogy His Dark Materials chronicles the coming-of-age journey of spunky, adventurous Lyra (along with a kid from our world, who'll make an appearance in the next installment) against a background of apocalyptic conflict.

The Golden Compass makes brisk work of establishing Lyra's world, where people walk around accompanied by animal daemons, all of them under the dominion of a church-state entity called the Magisterium. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig play fiercely opposed parental figures, and a host of other stars voice the daemons; the film's look is fantastical retro-future (think Jules Verne, but with far-northern fortresses populated by armored talking bears), and its action sequences — stunningly realized by armies of digitizers — are great fun.

The author's avowed atheism has prompted talk of a boycott, but there's nothing here that's likely to rock anyone's faith. Apart from the presence of a second X chromosome in the makeup of its leading character, it's just a rousing adventure saga.