My friend just asked me if I was going to post about The Golden Compass. I told him that I thought about it, but had decided not to, but here it is anyway. There have been emails circulating in protest of the movie, loosely based on this quote from Bill Donahue of The Catholic League:
Look, the movie is based on the least offensive of the three books. And they have dumbed down the worst elements in the movie because they don’t want to make Christians angry and they want to make money. Our concern is this, unsuspecting Christian parents may want to take their kid to the movie, it opens up December 7th and say, this wasn’t troubling, then we’ll buy the books. So the movie is the bait for the books which are profoundly anti-Catholic and at the same time selling atheism.
Make no mistake, Philip Pullman dislikes religion, and his philosophy is expressed in the nature of the story. But as this review by James Berardinelli indicates, the protest is much ado about nothing, and the movie is of average quality. He also has some interesting commentary about the movie. New Line invested over $180 million in a movie that brought in $27 million in the US on opening weekend. It’s unlikely there will be any more produced.
Now, let’s discuss why a movie studio invests over $100 million in a movie. Hollywood, as a whole, is risk averse. They generally appeal to the lowest common denominator, and try to cater to the largest possible audience. Why? Because, the goal of Hollywood is to make money. That’s why most movies that are edgy or have an agenda are independent or low budget, because most of those movies don’t have mass appeal. New Line Cinema produced Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and took a big risk in doing so, giving him a substantial amount of control. If LOTR had flopped, New Line might have went down with it. New Line chose Pullman’s The Dark Materials series as the fantasy heir to LOTR.
Thus, we have people protesting a movie they’ve never seen, based on books most of them have never read, worrying that a studio who’s investing a lot of money in a franchise so they can make lots of money will create a movie to indoctrinate the audience, and thus alienate a substantial part of their audience. It is, then, no surprise, that the movie largely plays it safe in terms of themes.
The lack of dialogue disturbs me. We, as Christians, talk about how sure we are of Christian truth, yet react defensively, as if God’s truth can’t win in an open arena, as if it is so frail, that it must be protected at all costs. Some Christians are worried that movies like The Golden Compass will indoctrinate their kids in atheism, but feel everyone needs to see The Chronicles of Narnia because it’s a Christian allegory. Huh? We want people to listen to what we have to say, but we boycott opposing viewpoints?? There are plenty of non-Christians who dislike the religious allegory of Narnia, and plenty who certainly don’t want THEIR kids indoctrinated with Christianity, yet many still went to see Narnia in spite of that. And in the end, no conversation takes place, and we stay as far away from each other as when we began.