It is gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Go see it in the biggest theater you can. I loved the settings, every single one of them. The time, thought, care, and money spend on them was worth it. They are spectacular and also perfect for the book. My favorites were the flight to town in the zeppelin and the Far North scenes. Fantastic! I look forward to seeing it again (as I will this Friday with two former students) just to have more time to examine them all. The care taken with creating this world is clear and it was worth it.
The actors are terrific. Dakota Blue Richards is Lyra (although not as grubby as she is in the book). Her accent which some reviewers have complained about worked for me. I liked that it was just a bit gutter-snip, but not too much. After all, Lyra is being raised among scholars. So while she plays with the servants she also is studying with scholars. So it stands to reason that her accent would be a mixture of the two. She comes across just as you want her to — smart, energetic, concerned, and fun. She’s great.
Then what can I say that others haven’t already said about Nicole Kidman? She is all Philip Pullman (who long ago nailed her for the role) could want for one of the most complicated characters in children’s literature — Mrs. Coulter. Gorgeous, chilling, smart, and frightening all at once.
I adored Sam Eliot as Lee Scoresby and Kathy Bates as his daemon Hester (who got the only laugh of the night from the Times Square audience I was with). And Ian McKellen was terrific as Iorek Byrnison. Freddie Highmore also was excellent in the challenging role of Pantalaimon (as it was all voice). Can’t think of a single character who felt miscast. They all looked and sounded right to me.
And that takes me to the special effects. These make the movie. Cheaply done and the movie would be dreadful. But no expense seems to have been spared and it shows. The daemons are great (that golden monkey is scarier than in the book!), the bears beyond wonderful, and I think those involved deserve awards for what they’ve done.
As for the script and directing — I applaud Chris Weitz’s effort. It took a long time to make and I can only imagine how much he had to fight to get it made the way it now is. That said, having to present concisely a lot of information about Lyra’s world, the many characters, and plot points did make the first part of the movie feel a bit disjointed and I could see it being a bit confusing to those unfamiliar with the books. Not that I know how else they could have done it, mind you! But once Lyra leaves Oxford the film picks up and when she gets to the far North — all hell and action breaks out. There are so many wonderful scenes: Lyra and Iorek dashing across the snow, Iorek fighting Iofur Raknison (and Lyra tricking him at Svalbard), Lee in his balloon, the Gyptian craft, and the horrific actions at Bovangar just to name a few. These are all so true to the book and truly wonderful to see and hear.
Can’t say I was wild about the mystical stuff that happened when Lyra consulted the alethiometer, but again I’m no filmmaker. (I also have to note that I hated the tinkly music used for those same moments in the stage version — both were too, too something for my taste. Not that I know what to do instead.) On the other hand I loved the daemons melding with Dust when they died in the battles. That was so cool!
So , all in all, I’m happy. I sure hope Chris gets a chance to make The Subtle Knife. With the basic information in place he would be freed up to really get going with this amazing and wonderful story!