I read, and really enjoyed, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials a while back, so I was really looking forward to this film, the first of three. Unfortunately it just isn’t very good. It should be. The story is a wonderful one, Kidman and Craig are fantastic, although Craig isn’t really on screen for all that long, and Dakota Blue Richards is wonderful as Lyra. Some of the other kids aren’t too great, but we’ll let them away. The special effects are, for the most part, superb. The polar bears in particular are fantastic.
But as a film it just doesn’t work. There is too much talking about what is going on and not enough showing. A cardinal sin in such a visual media as film. Maybe it is because so much happens in the book, and so much is either cut out or just expositioned away. Despite trying to get through so much I was bored for quite a bit of the film.
But there are positives. As I said, the acting is great, and once the action scenes kick off they are wonderful. And the music was perfect too. It is just such a pity that the film itself is such a let down.
For those who haven’t read the books the story introduces us to Lyra, and the alternate Oxford where she lives. A place where everyone has a daemon companion. A place where the Magestirium is in charge. She is an orphan, left at Jordan College by her uncle, Lord Asriel. For the most part she does as she pleases, no one is going to turn her into a “lady”, she plays with the servant’s children, and the Gyptian youngsters, running amok and getting into trouble, which she then usually lies her way out of.
The problem is that this is never fully explained in the film, and so she sometimes seems to switch between being a “cockney brat” and an “upper-class spoiled little rich girl”, or at the very least her accent does. The film never shows that it is Lyra herself that switches between her personas , it isn’t Richard’s, or at least I don’t think it is.
Lyra’s world has suffered from the Gobblers. No one is quite sure who they are, or what they really do, all they know is that children are disappearing, and the Gobblers are to blame. For the most part it is the poor who suffer, no one in charge really cares about their loss. But when Lyra’s best friend, Roger, is taken she sets out to rescue him. Of course it isn’t quite that straight-forward, and she is caught up in other plots and stories, my favourite being her meeting with Iorek Byrnison, the Polar Bear without armour.
I can’t really recommend this film. But at the same time I came out slightly happier than I was halfway through. The Polar Bears are wonderful, and the witches… I want a polar bear and I want to be a witch, they are so cool :).