Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Ian McKellen
Director: Chris Weitz
THE Golden Compass is well made, with a lot of intelligent dialogue. Much of the film requires attention as well as some developed vocabulary.
It looks very good, sets and design, effects for fantasy, and Nicole Kidman wearing a large array of costumes and gowns.
The cast is strong with Dakota Blue Richards as the feisty heroine, Lyra, who along with her daemon (more about that word later), Pan, who is the external version, the physical manifestation of her “soul” with whom she can speak and argue, is ready to take on all comers – and does.
The talented young actor Freddie Highmore is the voice of Pan.
The Golden Compass itself is a powerful mechanism that tells the truth and reveals what others wish to hide.
Apart from Kidman, who seems to be relishing the opportunity to be glamorous, charming and ruthlessly villainous, there is Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Sam Elliott exactly as he is in the many Westerns he has appeared in as Mr Scoresby and a long list of distinguished British stage and screen actors.
The Golden Compass has some frightening scenes and battles for the younger audience.
There are some aspects of the film that may raise a religious eyebrow. The opening of the film speaks of parallel worlds, a feature of all of the best film fantasies.
In our world, our souls are within us. In the parallel world, the soul is outside us, in the form of a symbolic animal called a “daemon” (not a devil but a “spirit” according to the origins of the word).
The other word is the “Magisterium”, the name of the all-powerful ruling body which is authoritarian and intent on eradicating free will so that all people, especially the children they abduct and experiment on, will lose their daemon and be completely conformist and happy.
The Magisterium heads are embodied by Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee who spurn tolerance and freedom and speak of heresy.
Magisterium is, in fact, the word used for the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, so that is clearly a critical element – though, as will be quoted later Philip Pullman, the author of the novel Northern Lights on which the film is based, says he is not anti-Catholic but anti-rigid religion.
The main problem is that Pullman is an “avowed” atheist.
Statements that Pullman has made in interviews and on television on his atheism, his criticism of authoritarian Christianity and his (alleged) desire that children find their way to atheism have offered the impetus for the attack on this film.
Pullman’s ideas deserve some intelligent response rather than derision or dismissal.
He does make serious points about the role of institutional religion which need both a Church examination of conscience as well as thoughtful response or rebuttal.
In a long interview on Pullman’s website, the following question and answer are to this point.
“Do you believe in God?”
“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.”
The film has been toned down so that “Catholics, and Protestants are not enraged”.
The film, unlike the book upon which it is based, does not raise any theistic or atheistic issues or even questions, so adult Christians can approach this film knowing that the controversy is more around the film rather than what is on the screen.