"The Golden Compass" is a blatant attempt to duplicate the success of the "Harry Potter" franchise. The only thing missing is richly imagined characters, a comprehensible story line, good acting, and satisfying special effects.
Not having done much more than dip into Philip Pullman's megabestselling "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which has been accused of anti-Catholic bias, I can't judge the faithfulness of the movie adaptation, except to say that any alleged antireligiousness has been watered down to near nonexistence.
Based on the first book in the trilogy, Chris Weitz's "The Golden Compass" recounts the adventures of 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), a ward of Jordan College in Oxford, who journeys into a parallel universe ruled by armor-plated polar bears and "daemons" – shapeshifty physical manifestations of the souls of human individuals. Lyra has her very own daemon – who looked a bit like Alvin the Chipmunk to me – and so does Nicole Kidman's icy Mrs. Coulter, the Magisterium head of the General Oblation Board (don't ask). Her golden-monkey daemon, like herself, is up to no good. A bearded Daniel Craig also turns up as Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel (anagram for Israel), and his daemon is a snow leopard.
The compass of the title is a device in Lyra's possession that tells the absolute truth, and the truth here is that this movie, which is rather optimistically set up for a sequel, could have used a better daemon of its own. Grade: C–