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The Golden Compass
(Opens December 7th, Alliance Atlantis)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green, Sam Elliott

Another holiday film season, another big budget fantasy blockbuster to look forward to. Based on Philip Pullman’s best-selling novel, the first in ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, The Golden Compass is already drawing comparisons to fantasy book-to-film adaptations such as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Newcomer Dakota Blue Richards plays Lyra, a 12-year-old orphan who lives in a world very much like ours. Except in this parallel universe, there are witches, talking bears, and every human has a soul that lives outside of them in the form of a daemon animal spirit. After being entrusted with a special compass only she can decipher, Lyra embarks on a quest to icy, dangerous lands to rescue a friend who has been abducted by the evil Miss Coulter, played to villainous perfection by Nicole Kidman. With its sprawling visuals, epic metaverse, and time-tested fantasy-genre appeal, not to mention a staggering 150 million dollar budget, The Golden Compass is being touted as the blockbuster to beat this season. Add the extra press garnered from outraged Christian organizations, which only served to increase revenue for films like “The Da Vinci Code,” and there’s bound to be lots of buzz surrounding this film. Yet with a vast amount of material to bring to life, not to mention a director who may be a tad out of his element (Chris Weitz of About a Boy and American Pie fame), this Compass may prove somewhat directionless for die-hard fans of the series.

(Opens limited – December 7th, wide December 21st, Odeon)
Starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave, Romala Garai

Adapted from Ian McEwan’s bestselling novel, Atonement is the story of love torn apart by betrayal. A hot summer night in 1935: 13-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a romantic encounter between her secret crush, the housekeeper’s son, Robbie (McEvoy) and her older sister Cecilia (Knightley). Not understanding what she’s seeing and armed with an overactive imagination, Briony manufactures a terrible lie that sends Robbie to jail for a crime he did not commit. Realizing her misdeed later in life, an older Briony spends the rest of her days atoning for her mistake. Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) brings this sweeping wartime epic to life with commanding performances by Keira Knightley and James McEvoy (Last King of Scotland) who has rising star written all over him. Although some may wrongly discount this as a chick flick, this decades-spanning wartime tale has plenty to warrant its well-deserved Oscar buzz.

I Am Legend
(Opens December 14th, Warner Bros.)
Starring Will Smith, Alice Braga, Salli Richardson-Whitfield

In this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 sci-fi novel, Will Smith puts a new spin on Charlton Heston’s turn in “The Omega Man.” Smith plays Robert Neville, the last man on earth who somehow survives a deadly man-made virus, which has turned his fellow New Yorkers, and possibly the rest of the world, into virus-infected zombies. For the past three years, Neville, armed with his faithful canine companion, searches valiantly for signs of life to no avail. A brilliant scientist, Neville sets out to reverse the effects of the virus with his own immune blood, ultimately becoming mankind’s last hope. Although the film sounds about as cheerful as finding a lump of coal in your stocking, the always hopeful Will Smith is sure to bring just the right amount of humanity to this post-apocalyptic offering.

Image of Keira Knightly courtesy of Odeon Films