Dark date with destinies
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