Dark date with des­tinies

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

THE Golden Com­pass is in part based on the first of Philip Pull­man’s fan­tasy tril­ogy, His Dark Ma­te­ri­als , first pub­lished in 1995 and tar­geted by some sec­tions of the Catholic Church for its at­tack on re­li­gion. Cer­tainly a key theme of the film is the con­flict be­tween ra­tio­nal science and the Mag­is­terium, an op­pres­sive rul­ing clique whose mostly el­derly, very dis­agree­able, mem­bers claim the souls of all the world’s chil­dren.

This is tak­ing place in one of those par­al­lel worlds we’ve be­come familiar with since The Lord of the Rings , though it all looks very English. In­deed, the open­ing nar­ra­tion help­fully ex­plains: There are many uni­verses and many Earths par­al­lel to each other; con­nect­ing them all is Dust.’’

This, at least, is the the­ory of Lord As­riel ( Daniel Craig) who, while trav­el­ling in the Arc­tic Cir­cle, has dis­cov­ered ev­i­dence of the im­por­tance of dust in link­ing the worlds. The only thing that can prove As­riel’s the­ory, which is hotly con­tested by the Mag­is­terium, is an Alethiome­ter, or Golden Com­pass, which is en­trusted to Lyra ( Dakota Blue Richards), As­riel’s spir­ited 12- year- old niece.

One of the curious things about the peo­ple liv­ing in this par­tic­u­lar world is that ev­ery hu­man be­ing is ac­com­pa­nied at all times by a dae­mon, a talk­ing an­i­mal that re­flects the char­ac­ter of its hu­man mas­ter; thus As­riel is ac­com­pa­nied ev­ery­where by a lion but, since the dae­mons at­tached to chil­dren haven’t fi­nally formed yet, Lyra’s changes from rac­coon to bird and back with be­wil­der­ing fre­quency.

When a Mag­is­terium at­tempt to poi­son As­riel fails and he heads for the north to con­tinue his in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Lyra is be­friended by the beau­ti­ful but un­trust­wor­thy Mrs Coul­ter ( Ni­cole Kid­man at her most el­e­gant), who is in league with the Mag­is­terium.

Amer­i­can di­rec­tor Chris Weitz has pre­vi­ously made far more mod­est films than this ( About a Boy ) but, with the help of what ap­pears to be a huge bud­get, he cre­ates a lav­ish, dark- hued world in which his char­ac­ters travel to­wards their des­tinies. Ac­tion set- pieces in­clude a fight to the death be­tween a pair of po­lar bears, voiced by Ian McShane and Ian McKellen, and a bat­tle on the ice that never be­gins to ri­val Sergei Eisen­stein’s Alexan­der Nevsky .

Sam El­liott pro­vides some light re­lief as a cow­boy who has some­how slipped into the story, and Eva Green ap­pears as Ser­a­fina, a witch who for­tu­nately proves to be friendly.

The Golden Com­pass is lav­ishly pro­duced and looks ex­tremely hand­some, but it ends abruptly, just as it’s start­ing to get in­ter­est­ing. Will the story be con­cluded? Peter Jack­son had filmed most of the three parts of The Lord of the Rings be­fore the first part opened, but that wasn’t the case here, and dis­ap­point­ing box- of­fice re­sults in the US — blamed on the at­tacks by the church — sug­gest that Weitz may be faced with a strug­gle to raise the cash to com­plete this am­bi­tious saga.

* * * AC­TOR Julie Delpy turns to di­rec­tion with a thor­oughly en­gag­ing com­edy, 2 Days in Paris , in which she plays Mar­ion, a cheer­fully neu­rotic French pho­tog­ra­pher who brings her even more neu­rotic Jewish- Amer­i­can boyfriend of two years, Jack ( Adam Gold­berg), to stay with her par­ents ( played by Delpy’s par­ents, Marie Pil­let and Al­bert Delpy) in their small Paris apart­ment.

Ter­ri­fied of pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist at­tacks, in­tol­er­ant to­wards fel­low Amer­i­cans who are un­wise enough to wear Ge­orge Bush T- shirts and fiercely jeal­ous of Mar­ion’s nu­mer­ous past lovers, Jack is quite a hope­less char­ac­ter.

Luck­ily, he doesn’t speak much French, so the barbed com­ments of Mar­ion’s fa­ther mostly pass him by.

At first it seems as though Delpy’s film will be an at­tack on the ugly Amer­i­can, but the ugly French­man, es­pe­cially racist, ho­mo­pho­bic taxidrivers, comes in for a bash­ing, too. More en­joy­able than Be­fore Sun­rise and Be­fore Sun­set in which Delpy starred for di­rec­tor Richard Lin­klater, 2 Days in Paris is a dis­arm­ing com­edy with at­ti­tude.

* * * CZECH vet­eran Jiri Men­zel has re­turned to the work of much- loved nov­el­ist Bo­hu­mil Hra­bal ( who wrote the book on which Men­zel’s first film, the Os­car- win­ning Closely Watched Trains , was based) with I Served the King of Eng­land, a whim­si­cal, gen­tly ironic look at the life and times of an am­bi­tious young man who en­dured both the Nazis and the com­mu­nists. Ivan Barnev is a de­light as Jan Dite ( the name means John Child) who, on his re­lease from a com­mu­nist prison in the 1950s, re­calls his ex­pe­ri­ences as a waiter in a se­ries of smart restau­rants and his in­volve­ment with some im­mac­u­lately beau­ti­ful women. Vis­ually rich, hu­man­is­tic and melan­choly in tone, this slightly over­long dra­matic com­edy con­firms that, through­out a 40- year ca­reer, Men­zel has not lost his touch for hu­mour that is painful and even con­fronting.

Am­bi­tious saga: Ni­cole Kid­man is at her most el­e­gant as the beau­ti­ful but un­trust­wor­thy Mrs Coul­ter in The Golden Com­pass

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