.- When the first Harry Potter movie arrived in theaters several years ago, many Catholic families had divided views about the film. Some enjoyed it as an innocent and intriguing fantasy. Others avoided it because of its emphasis on magic. But the screen adaptation of Philip Pullmanâs book, âThe Golden Compass,â which opened in Denver on Dec. 7, will likely produce far more agreement. No matter how one looks at it, âThe Golden Compassâ is a bad film. Thereâs just no nicer way to say it.
I saw it at an 8:30 evening showing on Dec. 8. The theater was largely deserted. That may be a trend. While âThe Golden Compass,â released by New Line Cinema, ranked No. 1 in box office revenues on its opening weekend, it took in only a modest $26.1 million. The three âRing Trilogyâ movies grossed between $47 and $72 million on their respective opening weekends, and âThe Chronicles of Narniaâ had opening revenues of more than $65 million. In fact, secular critics have been less than kind to the movie, and for good reason. Itâs long, complicated, and despite a very gifted supporting cast and wonderful special effects, the story is finally lifeless. Much of the movie takes place in the polar north, and the iciness of the setting is a perfect metaphor for the chilly, sterile spirit at the heart of the story. Anyone expecting a playful childrenâs fantasy would do well to look elsewhere. There is nothing remotely âplayfulâ about this movie.
As many readers will already know, Philip Pullman is an atheist, and âThe Golden Compassâ â the first book in his trilogy âHis Dark Materialsâ â is a calculated counter-story to Christian-based fantasies like âThe Lord of the Ringsâ and âNarnia.â âThe Golden Compassâ takes place in a parallel world similar to earth, but dominated by a sinister quasi-religious authority known as the Magisterium. This powerful elite seeks to âprotectâ people â for their own good â by shielding them from scientific knowledge, represented by the movieâs mysterious cosmic dust and a truth-telling piece of technology called an âalethiometerâ (or golden compass). More specifically, the Magisterium abducts young children and literally kills their souls, thereby extinguishing the spirit of free thought and inquiry.
The aggressively anti-religious, anti-Christian undercurrent in âThe Golden Compassâ is unmistakable and at times undisguised. The wicked Mrs. Coulter alludes approvingly to a fictional version of the doctrine of Original Sin. When a warrior Ice Bear â one of the heroes of the story â breaks into the local Magisterium headquarters to take back the armor stolen from him, the exterior walls of the evil building are covered with Eastern Christian icons. And for Catholics in our own world, of course, âMagisteriumâ refers to the teaching authority of the Church â hardly a literary coincidence. The idea that any Christian film critics could overlook or downplay these negative elements, as some have seemed to do, is simply baffling.
Strangest of all â and in striking contrast to the Harry Potter and Narnia stories â is the absence of joy or any real laughter in the movie. The talented child actress who plays the filmâs leading role is hobbled by a character that is uniformly unpleasant, rebellious, belligerent and humorless; the kind of young person described by one of my parent friends as needing a âlong time-out.â
Obviously, parents are the primary teachers of their children. They need to use their own best judgment about whether a film is suitable for their families. But Iâll certainly be encouraging my own friends to put their Christmas cash to better use. In fact, maybe the most cynical and insulting thing about âThe Golden Compassâ is that its makers would offer this cold, angry, anti-religious fable as âholiday fareâ in the midst of a season built around the birth of Jesus Christ. Thatâs certainly worth a letter to the people at New Line Cinema. With two more books in the Pullman trilogy as possible sequels, it might be helpful if they heard from all of us.
New Line Cinema:
E-mail: [email protected]
Address: 116 N. Robertson Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90048