By Ray Bennett
LONDON – Philip Pullman’s trilogy of secular children’s adventures, “His Dark Materials,” was a welcome antidote to the religiosity of C. S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books although equally difficult to read for anyone past adolescence.
Somehow, the National Theatre managed to mount a marvelous stage production that combined childlike wonder with a timeless sense of magic. Staged in two parts, it also took the time to explain what the hell is going on, which is more than can be said for New Line’s strident film “The Golden Compass,” which lacks dramatic structure and has neither wit nor charm.
The first of a proposed trilogy, the picture had its world premiere in London tonight and opens everywhere in the first week of December.
You might think that in the opener writer and director Chris Weitz would take time to establish the parallel worlds the characters inhabit and explain why they have assorted birdies and beasties at their feet.
It’s a zoo out there and while the CGI is pretty good, Weitz finds it all to easy to rely on the so-called daemons to make the audience jump. it all descends into a huge special-effects battle much like Monty Python’s Women’s Townswomen Guild reenactment of “Camp on Blood Island.”
Nicole Kidman looks icy and dangerous but Daniel Craig doesn’t have much to do while Sam Elliott floats around on a ramshackle balloon airship and Eva Green zooms about like a rocket propelled Tinkerbell. Dakota Blue Richards (pictured with Kidman) plays Lyra Bevacqua and the cast includes many top character actors such as Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay, Christopher Lee, Edward de Souza, Kathy Bates, Simon McBurney, Derek Jacobi and Clare Higgins.
Ian McKellen is on hand to provide the voice for a mighty bear and he must have made a deal with the sound man as his is the only voice that can be heard clearly over the clamor and Alexandre Desplat’s rackety orchestral score.