The Golden Compass was not a very good movie

i-695e4fc91c98515d238a4905a5a95921-golden.jpgI guess I suspected that Golden Compass might not be good, but I went to see it last night if for no other reason than to see why thousands of people would attempt to boycott it on Facebook. The Catholic League is also organizing a boycott. I haven't read the books that this movie was based on, but apparently the primary objection to the film was from Christian groups to the atheist imagery in the books. The author of the books, Philip Pullman, has also enunciated his desire to create a sort of anti-C.S. Lewis, secular trilogy.

Listen, maybe the books are substantially better, but if this movie is indicative of his attempt to make a secular trilogy, it is one of the most ham-fisted attempts I have ever seen.

Now I will grant that, as my co-blogger Chad points out, the armored bear bit is pretty sweet, and I am all about that girl-power, don't-listen-to-you-Mom-because-she-has-an-evil-monkey vibe that Lyra has going on. (The Mom, not the monkey, is played by Nicole Kidman. I know you were all very confused about that.)

Come on, though. The primary message of this film is how you shouldn't listen to the Man because the Man just wants to control your mind, and I am afraid that message is a tad threadbare. Great. Because it is not like there have been any movies with that theme...

Further, I have difficulty associating Lyra with free-thinking empiricism when she discovers the truth using a magic compass with little figures on it and spends her time talking to her soul made flesh in the form of a talking muskrat. This is from a man who accepted with all credulity the point when Neo got trapped in a subway station in the second Matrix movie. (I didn't even giggle when Frodo said some frankly homoerotic things to Sam in Lord of the Rings.) There are limits, however: the muskrat strains my "voluntary suspension of disbelief" gland.

This gets to the rub of this movie. Lyra is fighting the Man (read: Magisterium), so that we can all be happy little freethinkers with the spirit of inquiry and such nonsense. However, in asking us to reject the Man's nonsense, she goes on to try and foist a whole bucket full of her own nonsense on us. Are there any characters in this movie that do not believe in flying witches? Are there are characters who are actually empiricists?

In execution as well as in theme this movie does rather badly. Most of the dialogue is filled with statements that can only be appropriately accompanied by swelling Enya music. And this movie has plenty of that too. Did you catch the song with the credits? It was like someone was delivering a plot synopsis through the medium of drunken karaoke!

On the whole, I don't understand what all the fuss was about. If this is the best that the atheists can do to make secular legends, then I am just going to have to start reading the Bible again. Likewise, I imagine the books are a good bit more subtle, but if they are not then Pullman is no C.S. Lewis. Say what you want about message, but the Narnia books are both subtle in delivery and interesting in plot.

And, by the way, what was so bad about the Lord of the Rings as a secular trilogy? Do we really need any more?


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I thought it was a very well made kids movie, though hardly secular (maybe a bit pluralistic, and too libertarian, but so are all good kids movies); with no more philosophy than the plot needed.

I highly encourage you to pick up the books. I haven't seen the movie yet, but the books are captivating, well-plotted, set in an enthralling fantasy world. The first book doesn't contain a whole lot of secularist themes, although you do learn that the bad guys are working with the church. In later books, though, you meet angels, false gods, and elementary particles that embody sin/free will.

the movie was made for 5 year olds, (excepting perhaps the part with the polar bear's jaw,) with out much thought to the parent that might be dragged to it. I have never seen a movie that had so much exposition while needing so little. as well as a director with no concept of the metaphor, or mystery, or nuance, or... it starts with an explanatory voice over, so you know you're in trouble right away. the production designer did a creditable job, but that's about it... (though even there, the misunderstanding about amberonics is truly annoying.)

the movie as a whole can be improved dramatically by turning the sound off and dealing with it as a silent movie. perhaps with some suitably dramatic music to accompany.

the books are better. though I thought the end of the trilogy perhaps a little hollow.

Maybe you missed the part where they said it is a fantasy. If you go to see a fantasy, you can't really complain about magic compasses. Can you really accept talking bears wearing armor but reject that?

I haven't seen the movie, but I have read the book:

Why would there be any characters who don't believe in flying witches? In the story, there are witches. That fly. Being an empiricist in this case requires you to believe in them.

But in a world where magic actually works wouldn't one expect a "free-thinking empiricist" to believe in flying witches?

Note to self: read all the comments _before_ posting.

I would have to argue that LOTR _is_ a subtle Christian allegory. The Narnia septology (?) on the other hand is not at all subtle (and I think wasn't intended to be). If Pullman's goal is to mirror C.S. Lewis, then ham-fisted is really the appropriate style.

I feel obliged to echo what other people are saying here. The books truly are impressive, and very intelligent. I'm very much disappointed, but not at all surprised, that the film has turned out this way. And that's a real shame, because there's an awful lot of talent involved in the film.

Things might seem arbitrary in the film, but they are anything but in the book. The books really are intended to be read as a trilogy together to appreciate their full intentions. Book 3, The Amber Spyglass, has an interesting case-study of evolution on another of the parallel worlds. We also meet an assassin priest in that book who's been pre-emptively absolved of his sins. That's without even mentioning the angels that appear, and the truth we learn about them.

If you ever have time, please do read them.

Likewise, I imagine the books are a good bit more subtle, but if they are not then Pullman is no C.S. Lewis. Say what you want about message, but the Narnia books are both subtle in delivery and interesting in plot.

The first two books (The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife) are somewhat more subtle than the movie. The third (The Amber Spyglass) is, um, not. There are points where the whole story grinds to a halt so the author can grind some axes.

But, hey, you've expressed a liking for Ayn Rand, so maybe it'll work for you...

Ironically, Pullman ends up having exactly the same problem with his signature series that Lewis did with the Narnia books. The first several Narnia books are good fun and the Christian stuff is ignorable if not really subtle, but the final book is preachy and awful and wrecks everything that came before. I think I would be happier, on the whole, if I could un-read the endings of both The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials.

And, by the way, what was so bad about the Lord of the Rings as a secular trilogy? Do we really need any more?

What was secular about the Lord of the Rings? Okay, if you'd read the trilogy alone and not delved in to the appendices or further lore, there doesn't seem to be that much religion involved; but Gandalf, Saruman, and Sauron are literally angels incarnate, Sauron's evil is literally part of a rebellion against God, and divine providence is part of the planning process of the heroes. I happen to like the mythology of Middle-Earth, but it's hardly secularist.

And, as others have said, in a world where women can fly out of the sky and say "hello, I'm a witch" the empiricist reaction must surely be "hmmm, looks like there are people called 'witches' who can fly".

I agree with Morgan. Mythology is the mechanism behind these books (and others besides LOTR and HIs Dark Materials... just look at Dune for another popular example), and is why they have so much appeal.

Maybe you should just watch it as a movie instead of putting all your secular hopes and dreams on it? As a movie it was awesome. Beautiful, well acted, and captivating. That the alchemy was not quite right isn't a knock on the movie.

By Golden Monkey (not verified) on 13 Dec 2007 #permalink

As a movie it was awesome.

Actually, as a movie I found it quite mediocre. The first half was creaking under the weight of ponderous exposition (delivered through that most uninteresting of narrative devices - someone telling us what we needed to know), while the second was just rather disjointed and ill-plotted. This is quite apart from any complaints about its duty as Appointed EAC Propaganda Vehicle. On the other hand, people who haven't read the book seem to have enjoyed it all right, so perhaps it's just grognardaise on my part as a fan of the original.

This is Lyra from The Golden Compass. I was just wondering, are there any characters in your world that don't believe in blogging?

By Lyra Silvertoung (not verified) on 14 Dec 2007 #permalink

The movie was nowhere near as interesting as the book. It really should have been a good 30-40 minutes longer, and they should have left the atheist parts in. The movie flies from plot point to plot point way too fast, with many parts getting completely skipped over. The last couple chapters from the book were completely cut out, so the Bolvangar battle could be the 'epic climax'. Which is a shame, because the last couple chapters of the first book is where the anti-organized religion aspect of the series gets going in full gear.

And as others have said, if you lived in a world where witches were real and observable, logic would dictate that you 'believe' in witches.

"Likewise, I imagine the books are a good bit more subtle, but if they are not then Pullman is no C.S. Lewis."

After seeing the movie, I was interested in the books, so I've read the first book in the series. Instead of Pullman relying on subtlety, he relies on blatant references to "God" and "the Church". Pullman just looks like an angry atheist who got burned on a book report written on "The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe" early in life.