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‘Compass’ takes Europe by storm

Fantasy epic faces little opposition

LONDON — New Line’s fantasy epic “The Golden Compass” looks to strike gold at the European box office this weekend with openings in major territories U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Russia.

Only major territory not getting “Compass” this weekend is Italy, where pic opens Dec. 14.

Initial indications are certainly positive for Chris Weitz’s pic.

In Blighty, the pic has taken $3.1 million at 505 sites in its first two days (Wednesday and Thursday) via Entertainment Film Distributors. First day haul ($1.9 million) was bigger than December 2005 release “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Local bookers have welcomed the solid first two-day “Compass” take and predict it is set for a boffo Friday-Sunday haul given the next biggest opener — Mexican thriller “KM 31” — debuts on just 31 sites. The U.K. marketplace is wide open for a big opener and “Compass” looks to be heading in the right direction.

In France, “Compass” has also got off to a quick start. Pic pulled a big opening day, surpassing Metropolitan’s already high expectations. Epic fantasy based on Philip Pullman’s bestselling novel, toplining Nicole Kidman and local girl made good Eva Green, took in $841,600 on 767.

As in Blighty, reviews have been mixed. “Chris Weitz has succeeded in simplifying Pullman’s work for the better. As charming as it is suspenseful,” said Le Parisien. “Despite remarkable special effects and a superb cast, the result lacks equilibrium,” felt Metro.

Three locally made Gallic laffers also bowed well Wednesday.

“L’Auberge rouge” enjoyed a first day of $368,000 on 582 for Warners. A remake of a 1951 classic, the lowbrow hijinks of 19th century travelers and homicidal innkeepers, toplining Christian Clavier, largely failed to win over the scribes. “Nasty, overdone humor,” thought Premiere; “sinister and never funny,” sniped Les Inrockuptibles.

“Tous a l’Ouest: une aventure de Lucky Luke,” the latest in a long series of toon features starring Gaul’s favorite cowboy hero, had a decent bow for Pathe. Opening at $263,600 on 503, most critics were not amused: “Too over-the-top to capture the charm of the original stories,” sniffed MCinema.

“Cowboy” managed an O.K. first-day result for UGC, taking in $88,712 on 128. The locally made tragicomedy, toplining hot comic Benoit Poelvoorde as a TV journalist whose lefty beliefs are put to the test, has wowed the press. “A comedy gem … probing human nature with deft humor and sensibility,” said Le Parisien.

Bowing Wednesday on the eve of Spain’s early December four-day long weekend, a traditional launch-pad for big Christmas fare, “The Golden Compass” took a first two-day $2.8 million, despite slow Wednesday trading.

“Narnia” took a first two-day $3.1 million early December 2005; “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” took $2 million December 2001. “Two Towers” and “Return of the King” grossed two-days of $2.8 million and $3.9 million, respectively.

“Compass” could make a first five-day $4.4 million, compared with “Narnia’s” $5.4 million, predicted a Spanish exhib. “ ‘Compass’ has all the ingredients to be a Christmas success, mixing spectacle and grandeur with a personal story. It has great fantasy production, superb atmosphere and an appealing cast,” said a booker.

But so-so critical reactions and word-of-mouth suggests it will drop away quicker than “Narnia,” which clocked a final cume of $27.5 million.

“This is the domino effect: the price we have to pay for the success of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter,’ ” wrote El Pais.

Encouraged by the success of “The Hairy Tooth Fairy” last year, which took $5.2 million at the local B.O., Spanish mini-major Filmax released animated toon “Donkey Xote,” helmed by Jose Pozo, and Spain’s biggest bet for Christmas B.O. cheer, on 316 copies.

The “Shrek”-ish pic retells “Don Quixote” from the P.O.V. of Sancho Panza’s donkey. Though it’s too early to get a real handle, the two-day $281,020 isn’t Rocinante-slim but not spectacular either.

In Germany, “The Golden Compass” looks set for the top spot this weekend.

The Warner pic faces little in the way of competition and is sure to attract sizeable auds despite mixed reviews. While Germany’s biggest tabloid, Bild, called it “the most fantastic Christmas movie of the year”; Der Spiegel described it as “too violent for children and too dumb for adults.”

Local comedy “Warum Maenner nicht zuhoeren und Frauen schlecht einparken” (“Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”) and “American Gangster” are likely to see continued strong biz and remain high in the charts.

A number of arthouse pics and documentaries provide an alternative to mainstream releases, including Senator’s “Fuer den unbekannten Hund“ (“For the Unknown Dog”), Dominik and Benjamin Reding’s gritty, award-winning drama about a young man who flees from a crime and joins up with a group of traveling journeymen. Trade magazine Treffpunkt Kino wrote: “The stirring drama about guilt, suppression and atonement distances itself from any categorization with its raw and subtle images.”

Maria Speth’s “Madonnen” (“Madonnas”), about a troubled young mother unable to take care of her five children, goes out via Peripher, while GMfilms releases Wiltrud Baier and Sigrun Koehler’s “Der grosse Navigator,” a documentary about a German missionary who, after living for more than two decades among the tribes of Papua New Guinea, meets a new challenge when he moves to the Eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern with the aim of spreading the word among the local “pagans.”

Additional releases include Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her,” starring Julie Christie (Majestic/Fox); Patrice Leconte’s French comedy “My Best Friend,” which goes out via Alamode; Universum’s “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”; and Rudolf Thome’s relationship drama “Das Sichtbare und das Unsichtbare” (Prometheus/Barnsteiner).

In Italy, the widest opener is “Enchanted,” which Buena Vista International is outing on 445, boosted by the molto buzzed musical fable’s international preem at the Rome Film Festival in October.

The uncrowded Italo frame also sees actioner “Hitman” bowing via Fox on 230, the only other major new Italo entry amid plenty of local holdovers. Most notable is hit kiddie toon “Winx — The Secret of the Lost Kingdom,” in its second frame, which “Enchanted” is expected to oust from the top spot.

In the arthouse arena, Lucky Red is releasing Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park” on 70, while Marianne Faithfull starrer “Irina Palm” goes out on 37 via Teodora Film, and Denys Arcand’s drama “The Age of Ignorance” bows on 34 via BIM Distribuzione.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), David Hayhurst (France), John Hopewell (Spain) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).

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