(out of 5)
The first book in Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy is an exciting, highly imaginative romp with Dakota Blue Richards giving a wonderful performance in the lead. She plays the centre of a prophecy in a world parallel to our own, where everything is pretty much the same except for, among a few other minor differences (witches can fly!), there is one big discrepancy: human beings have souls like we do (depending on who you ask), only theirs exist outside their bodies in the form of an animal. Richards journeys north to the land of the “ice bears” (polar bears who talk and wear fashionable armour) in order to save her uncle (Daniel Craig) who is there to prove the existence of scientific fact over religious ignorance: there is a “Dust” in the universe that links parallel worlds, but the existence of this dust would render the all-powerful Magesterium invalid and spoil their power. In her quest to save her uncle, Richards stumbles upon a conservative conspiracy to separate young children from their souls and make them more pliant to the Magesterium’s doctrines. It’s easy to see why the Catholic higher-ups have gotten their robes in a bunch over this film, though their claims that it promotes atheism is incorrect; it’s more specifically critical of organized religion. Much of the anti-religiosity of Pullman’s novel has been toned down to make the film more financially viable, but in doing so director Chris Weitz has taken much of the bite out of the story. Nicole Kidman is marvelously stylish as Mrs. Coulter (is her first name Anne?!?), the figurehead of the right-wing conspiracy, while a host of celebrity voices lend their talents to the various CGI-created creatures that inhabit the story. The only drawback to what feels like the beginning of a highly enjoyable (if not wholly engrossing) movie experience is that, unlike an installment of The Lord Of The Rings (which every science-fiction film is aiming to be at this point), the film is not enjoyable on its own; it ends abruptly and is far too reliant on the chapters to follow. Still, the production is an overall impressive sight, with exceptional production values and dazzling visual effects.
Directed by Chris Weitz
Screenplay by Chris Weitz, based on the novel Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Cinematography by Henry Braham
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Production Design by Dennis Gassner
Costume Design by Ruth Myers