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Movie Review - The Golden Compass

Monday, December 10, 2007

Movie Review - The Golden Compass

Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence. Running time of 1 hour and 53 minutes.

Starring Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Eva Green, and Daniel Craig.


Before I get started on the movie review, let's take a look at some facts around this particular movie. This was originally a book entitled Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. It has spawned two other books entitled The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. All three books form the trilogy and the last, The Amber Spyglass, was published in 2000. The books have all won many awards including the Carnegie Medal. Philip Pullman's books have been criticized for their seemingly anti-religious view points and the fact that Pullman frankly states that his books are about killing God. It is for this reason, the books (and movie!) are labeled dangerous by all types of religion and especially Christianity in the US. Pullman has consistently stated (also can be found on his website www.philip-pullman.com) "I don't know whether there's a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it's perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don't know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it's because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I'd want nothing to do with them." Pullman expresses his beliefs as not an atheist or agnostic, but rather someone who disagrees with the horrible things in history that have happened because of a 'religious' type authority. He does not single out Christian or any other religion and drives the point home when asked whether a great deal of bad behaviour in the last century was the work of regimes that were atheistic, if not scientistic? Wasn't Nazism, for example, based on a twisted reading of Darwinism? Pullmans replies, "Yes, but they functioned psychologically in exactly the same way. They had a sacred book that provided an explanation of history which so far transcended every other explanation as to be unquestionable. There were the great prophets -- Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung -- men so far above the human race that they might as well be exalted as gods. They were treated in just the same way as the Pope. Every word they said, every thing they touched, was holy; their bodies had to be preserved and filed past in reverential silence. The fact that they proclaimed that there was no God didn't make any difference: it was a religion, and they acted in the way any totalitarian religious system would." Pullman completely agrees with the teachings of Jesus and other religious figures, as he states when asked where his religious views were shaped, "My view of the church and religion was shaped simply by a reading of history. The original impulses of the great religious geniuses - in whom I include Jesus - were, as often as not, something that all of us would benefit from studying and living by. The churches and priesthoods would benefit more than most, but they dare not." Pullman was then asked if he sees no good in organized religion and replies, "No, I wouldn't say that, because it would be silly; obviously many congregations, of many different religions, do good things such as raising money for charity. No-one could argue with that. But whenever you get a political structure, with ranks and hierarchies, you get corruption; you get people who are more interested in progressing through those ranks than in doing good. Power corrupts." Pullman ultimately concedes that his books are about the corruption in totalitarian systems, whether religious or not. He uses the church as his basis as it was the most dramatic way to get his point across. Pullman believes in the greater good, not the greater good that does bad in it's name. The books are obviously dangerous to organized religion as it paints religion as a villain, but ultimately the story is about the triumph of good and love, which shares values of the teaching of organized religion. Pullman's biggest critics complain that he changes biblical truth and kills God. Pullman explains that he is only trying to tell a story about making the most of your life on earth and doing good based on good or your own mind, not what a religion, government, or cult tells you is good. He doesn't want anyone to reject anything, but glean the good from it all. It is easy to make an argument for or against Pullman's trilogy by focusing on one aspect of the comments that he makes, but when enough research is done, there is plenty of explanation behind the extreme views people have presented on his work and the new movie. I find that most people will agree that the terrible things carried out in God's name, the very thing Pullman is essentially trying to bring out, by any religion is bad. Pullman does it in a dramatic, close to home way and for children who may not be able to understand the subtle themes for more that what they are, may interpret the book for something it is not, however the overall teaching is doing good, so its not all bad.

Let me first also explain my belief, I am a Christian that goes to First Baptist Church here in McCook. I find myself involved in many aspects of the church and believe in God. Furthermore, I realize that I am an adult who can process and debate material on my own. I came to the decision to put my trust in the Lord and that I don't need someone on this earth standing over me and telling me what I can and cannot read or watch.

So, I watched The Golden Compass. I enjoyed the movie. It was well acted and the CG effects were amazing. Overall, well worth a watch.

The overall story of The Golden Compass is of a girl named Lyra who does not know who her father or mother is and has been placed at the Oxford school while her Uncle Asriel is out exploring. The movie opens on Lyra expecting her Uncle's return to Oxford. Asriel presents a theory of Dust or an invisible substance that connects the world they know to other worlds. The government or church, however you choose to view it as the movie makes no specific mention as to what it is other than calling it the Magistarium, completely disagrees that this should be researched, but the school ultimately gives Asriel the money and he heads off. Soon, a member of the Magistarium, Mrs. Coulter arrives and tricks Lyra into coming with her to the North. The very place Asriel is doing his research. Lyra soon discovers that Coulter is behind recent kidnappings at Oxford and sets out to find and free the children. She is helped by many different groups of people including gypsies, witches, aeronauts, and polar bears, who talk in this fantasy.

The story is a bit hard to follow at times and this is most likely due to a problem in how the the book was adapted to a screenplay. Obviously, they had to cut out stuff to make the film run in under 2 hours. They just didn't quite fill up all loose ends or give all the characters enough of a back story/motivation for doing what they are doing. I can forgive this minor mistakes as the overall movie flows nicely and keeps the action/adventure coming with lots of amazing special effects. The CG graphics that run rampant in the last half of the movie as the main characters are in fantastical settings with talking Polar Bears who are fighting for them. The polar bear fight is not to be missed. It is a bit violent, but very thrill-filled.

I cannot recommend or not recommend this movie to anyone because of the strong feelings people have on this. I take the high route and say that it is for you to decide whether you watch it or not. I am glad I watched it and if I had a youngster in my household old enough to understand the differences and talk to me about the movie and their feelings on it, I would take them to it. However, the movie is watered down from the book, so any conversation on the topics at hand would have to be made after both watching the movie and reading the book. It is interesting to note that after the Catholic News Service actually watched the show, they say the same thing, "Will seeing the film inspire teens to read the books, which many have found problematic? Rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens. The religious themes of the later books may be more prominent in the follow-up films.... For now, this film ---altered, as it is, from its source material--- rates as intelligent and well-crafted entertainment." In preview screenings held the week before it's release, many congregations lifted their bans and have now approved the film for their congregations.

As I've always stated, I enjoyed the film and look forward to your comments on it as well. The film is playing at Cinema 3 in McCook and showtimes can be found online at www.fridleytheatres.com or by checking out the paper version of the Gazette.

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I completely agree with everything you said. I am an English Major at a University, and one of my classes discussed the philosophical people throughout history. Many were indeed atheists and argued the idea of whether or not God truly exists. The fact of the matter is that people are researching famous philosophers who have written and argued their own beliefs for years. The first atheist I was introduced to by education was my Junior year of high school! And yet, I still believe in God. Yes, the movie, the Golden Compass does direct towards children, but honestly, they do not grasp the idea of the world not having a God, unless their parents raised them to believe such a thing. Unless parents directly point out that the atheist author and what it actually means to be an atheist, then children will not even get that sort of message. Harry Potter was a book upon wizardry and witchcraft, which was extremely mythological like the Golden Compass was, and yet I never seen near as many complaints and concerns about Rowling's series. Parents don't want their children to get the wrong idea about God, but hate to break it ya, your children are going to eventually face the many questions about God whether it's in school or not.

-- Posted by EnglishMajor on Sun, Jun 1, 2008, at 1:10 AM

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