Out of print for more than 30 years, now available for the first time as an eBook, this is the controversial story of John Wooden's first 25 years and first 8 NCAA Championships as UCLA Head Basketball Coach. Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps said, "I used this book as an inspiration for the biggest win of my career when we ended UCLA's all-time 88-game winning streak in 1974."

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The Golden Compass (4/10)

by Tony Medley

Despite all the controversy and hullabaloo, this is too incoherent and full of plot holes to lure impressionable children down some primrose path to the atheism of the book’s author, Philip Pullman. Sure, it’s a fantasy about a parallel universe where animals talk, witches fly, and all the children have their own daemons serving as a constant voice of reason, so it’s not my cup of tea. But, still, in order to be entertaining, the basic story should make sense and be cohesive. This has neither attribute. Worse, since this is the first of a trilogy, the film doesn’t end. To be honest, they should have added, “To be continued…” at the end, but they didn’t.

Maybe a subject of more legitimate criticism is the lack of respect for adult authority this movie foists on the wee tykes in the audience. Even more disappointing is that Chris Weitz, who did such a smashing job with About A Boy (2002), directed this debacle. Even the way the titular Golden Compass works is never explained. It’s just movie magic. This is but one of the many aspects of the film that defy common sense. I guess you just have to take everything on faith, you should pardon the expression.

This has more plot holes than you could shake a stick at. To its credit, New Line toned down the story to eliminate, or mute, much of the anti-religious and anti-Catholic content of atheist Philip Pullman’s book. A child would have to be brilliant beyond belief to draw an anti-religious theme out of this effort. If you know what you’re looking for, I guess it’s there, but it’s such a stretch to think that a child could ascertain what is going on.

Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is a 12-year-old girl who is a ward of distinguished Jordan College. Her constant companion is her daemon, Pantalaimon (Freddie Highmore’s voice) – a small, ever-changing animal that serves as a constant voice of reason. In fact, all the children in the movie have their own daemons.

Her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), is embarking on a trip to the Arctic Circle to investigate a mysterious element called Dust, but the Magisterium, which seems to run this strange world, would go to any lengths – including shutting down Jordan College – to stop him. 

At the same time, rumors of children mysteriously disappearing and being taken north become real when Lyra’s best friend Roger (Ben Walker) goes missing. Lyra swears to go to the ends of the earth to rescue him, and when a new figure appears at the college – Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), a somewhat mysterious scientist and world traveler – she sees her best chance to get away. 

But Lyra finds that she has been drawn into a trap designed to take from her the one thing she possesses that the Magisterium desperately seeks – the Golden Compass.  Given to her as a gift by the Master of Jordan College (Jack Shepherd), it is a mystical, powerful device that can tell the truth, reveal what others wish to hide and foreshadow – and even change – the future. The rest of the film is basically a chase movie with the bad guys trying to get Lyra and Lyra trying to find Roger.

Unfortunately, the way the Compass works is never explained. It’s just movie magic. Lyra looks at it and determines what’s going on. This is just one of the many aspects of the film that makes no sense and is not explained.

You want plot holes? I’ll give you plot holes. Much of the movie takes place in a desolate north that looks like Antarctica. I mean, there’s nothing there. But every time they go anywhere, there’s something just around the corner. There’s a huge polar bear that has the perspicacity to think that maybe, just maybe, the ever so thin ice bridge across a huge chasm might not hold his half ton weight and Lyra’s 90 lbs., so she crosses without him and the ice bridge crashes, stranding the bear. Not to worry, though, because a short time later he shows up at the climax on the other side of the bridge to save the day. They all know exactly where they’re going, even though it’s all white and completely deserted. They want to confront someone without anything other than a feeling that they should, and just take off. Voila! after an extended journey, there they are, spot on, at their intended destination with everyone they expected to be there, there! This movie is nothing but nonsense. It’s so silly I don’t think even a child could swallow it.

For Daniel Craig to be listed as one of the main players in this borders on fraudulent advertising, to say the least. He’s in only a few scenes before he flies the coop to investigate the North. It seemed to me that he will appear in subsequent films, because there is no reason for him to be in this film, except to set up a sequel.

The only thing I liked about the film was the appearance of Sam Elliot, who plays Lee Scoresby, an “aeronaut” flying his own peculiar-looking machine. Elliot is still the same laconic guy he’s always been no matter the world or universe in which he appears, with a voice never to be forgotten.

I have been in few films in which I have consulted my watch more often. When the end finally did come after 93 excruciating minutes, I had an inkling of what it must feel like to experience a miracle.

December 7, 2007