Director: Chris Weitz
Year Released: 2007
Following the other fantasy novels-turned-movies trend (Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter) comes part one of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, centering around a little girl's ability to decode the title apparatus, lead an army of talking armored polar bears, witches and pirates to conquer a powerful group of priests who want to turn 'children into grown-ups' (I'm not making any of this up). It begins in a rush to introduce you to some of the main concepts (including the 'spirit animals' the characters possess as physical manifestations of their souls) and then sort-of tapers off in acts two and three, where it realizes it needs to slow down and do plenty of set-up for the inevitable parts two and three. The lead little girl (Dakota Blue Richards) is a bit too smarmy and it doesn't come off too well - kid actors: always a struggle (am I right, director folk?) - though the all-star supporting cast (Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green for about two minutes, Christopher Lee and Derek Jacobi for about one minute) does seem adept at dealing with the hooey. The press at the time of the release made a big deal about author Pullman's atheism which caused some worry among Jesus Freak hand-wringers, but I can assure everyone that Weitz is such a dense filmmaker the end product has been safely neutered - you know, heaven forbid kids learn at a young age to try to think about existence from multiple perspectives....