In adapting the first book of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, Chris Weitz (About a Boy) faced a daunting challenge: Pullman’s universe is fiendishly complex, and the novel is a thicket of imaginative details and thorny theology. Every human in this world has an animal spirit called a daemon, there are weird invisible “dust” particles that settle on adults but not children, and a doorway has been opened to other universes.
A spunky young orphan (Richards) finds herself at the center of the battle between the powerful but corrupt church and a ragtag assortment of rebels, including armor-clad bears, gorgeous witches and a cowboy balloonist (Elliott). She also tangles with a beautiful but evil woman (Kidman) who seems strangely focused on the girl’s fate. That’s a lot to pack in. Alas, with Weitz’s exposition-laden dialogue and uncertain direction, the film feels like a frantically paced highlight reel rather than a complete movie.
The actors try to make an impression, but they get lost in the gorgeous production design. More could be said about the look of the mechanical insects and sleek Art Deco zeppelins than about most of the characters. But stunning visuals and CGI talking bears do not add up to a good film.
Cast and crew
Kristin Scott Thomas
Edward de Souza