This year's Christmas stocking of film releases may contain a lemon: The Golden Compass, an adaptation of the first volume of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy. Emails have been warning Christians to shun the movie because the author is a dedicated atheist with an avowed goal of "destroying God." Some years ago, similar rumors about Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling proved fanciful-but in this case, urban legend is home truth.
This writer has read Pullman's trilogy and has written about it for WORLD (Jan. 27, 2001). The first two installments throw some anti-religious darts, but the third crosses from literature to propaganda and leaves no doubt that the author had God in his sights all along. Likewise, in interviews Pullman has castigated all religion-particularly Christianity-for rejecting the material world and strangling human freedom.
New Line Cinema (of The Lord of the Rings fame) sank an unprecedented $250 million into this project and is edgy about its investment. Parent companyTime Warner is looking sternly at New Line's bottom line (seventh in box-office receipts) and hinting about reorganization. The Golden Compass could be a deal-breaker.
From the earliest script proposals, the story's anti-religious tone was deliberately muted for the film. The villains are merely authoritarian-think fascists instead of clerics. Though Pullman has expressed his satisfaction with the product, some of his fans are livid: Terry Sanderson, president of UK's National Secular Society, claims the filmmakers have ripped the heart out of the novel. Bill Donohoe of the Catholic League agrees: "They're intentionally watering down the most offensive element." His concern is not the movie per se, but that young fans of the movie will be attracted to the books, and that's where the danger lies.
Pullman noted: "This must be the only film attacked in the same week for being too religious and for being anti-religious-and by people who haven't seen it." Perhaps he's putting up with a watered-down film version in order to draw readers into the books. If so, they will be drawn by something other than his powers of persuasion. His interpretation is cartoonish and his arguments (awkwardly voiced through the characters) are juvenile; a young Christian well grounded in the faith will not be swayed. But for the sake of the others, we can hope New Line Cinema has made a bad investment.