The problem with this movie is that it's not a complete story. It's merely the beginning of one, chapter or episode one. By the end of the film, there's still a lot of unresolved issue and plot that it requires a sequel to fulfill them.
The story has echoes of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" in which there are magical objects being chased and talking animals are fighting to save the world, or the world as they know it. The only difference is that you have a very adorable young British girl as the heroine.
Her name is Lyra, played by Dakota Blue Richards. She, along with everyone else, has an animal companion who shadows and advises them. One day, Lyra overhears a plot to kill her uncle Asriel, played by Daniel Craig. Later, Lyra is given a special compass that a woman named Mrs. Coulter, played by Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, attempts to steal.
Lyra goes on the run where she meets a group of individuals known as Gyptians who protect her from Mrs. Coulter and the Magisterium. The Magisterium is their weird regime, a stern political body that runs the country under a very strict, conservative, narrow-visioned rule.
Asriel is like Galileo or Christopher Columbus who presents an alternate view of the world to the Magisterium. They reject it, and apparently want him more than just silenced.
This is where Daniel Craig, the man who has become the new James Bond, becomes short-changed. The plot involving his character disappears and we never learn what happens to me. It's supposedly significant to what will happen to Lyra, but it's put on the cinematic backburner, hopefully to be resolved if not more explored in the next movie.
Instead, the film wastes time with an immense battle with computer-animated polar bears, which did help the film to earn an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The fight is exciting but ultimately adds nothing to the story. It's only tangential to the main problem, which is figuring out why the compass is so important.
Kidman does give a grand performance as this very sexy and very educated woman who seems to embrace totalitarianism. It was the third time in 2007 that Kidman had played a mother with serious issues. But, again, we're not given proper context to frame her beyond the typical evil villain. Nonetheless, Kidman is bewitching as is this film.
Three Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.