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Golden Compass, The

8/10

Stars: Dakota Blue Richards, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Ben Walker, Freddie Highmore, Ian McKellen, Eva Green,Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay, Ian McShane, Sam Elliott, Christopher Lee, Kristin Scott Thomas, Edward De Souza, Kathy Bates, Derek Jacobi, Clare Higgins, Jack Shepherd, Simon McBurney

Director: Chris Weitz

OK, Iíll admit it. I havenít read Philip Pullmanís The Northern Lights which forms the basis of Weitzís screenplay. But Iím not ashamed at my literary ignorance. I prefer to look at the film rather than whine about deviations from the original.

Weitz, employing fine special effects, creates a fascinating alternate universe where witches fly, zeppelins drift over Oxford, every human has their own daemon - a shape-shifting Ďfamiliarí in the form of an animal - and the world is governed by the sinister Magisterium which seeks to control all humanity.

Thereís plenty of (necessary) exposition to establish the first story in what should become must-see series in the wake of The Lord of the Rings and the seemingly endless Potter films. Here the narrative is carried, and very well too, by a 12-year-old orphan (Richards) who, when her best friend (Walker) is abducted by the evil Gogglers, travels to the Arctic Circle to rescue him on a magical odyssey armed with her own steely determination and the eponymous, truth-telling Golden Compass.

Her extraordinary enterprise faces her with Kidmanís icy villainess, while she is variously helped by the seafaring nomads, Texas aviator Elliott, flying witch Green and, memorably, the giant armoured bear Bymison whose bravura battle to the death with the Bear King is a rousing highlight.Ö.

Serendipitous casting adds to the enjoyment of this spectacular fantasy adventure: Kidman, sporting a new costume for every scene, perfectly demonstrates the charm of evil, Craig does what he has to do with a shaken Martini, Lee, adding resonant presence, and McKellen, as the voice of the bear Bymison, head an excellently chosen cast of British actors while writer-director Weitz drives the story entertainingly to its cliffhanging climax and the welcome promise of more to come.

Alan Frank

USA/UK 2007. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Colour by deluxe.
113 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 06 Dec 2007