Friday, August 26, 2011

Film Friday: The Golden Compass (2007)

The left politicizes children’s stories. They’ve discovered that once kids learn ideas like personal responsibility, the value of families and cause and effect, it becomes rather difficult to brainwash them to believe leftist dogma. Thus, they attack centuries old fairy tales as sexist, racist and evil, and they churn out propaganda to replace them. The Golden Compass is propaganda. Indeed, Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy, is anti-Catholic and anti-religion. “Ridiculous” screamed the left. But it's true. What's more, it's a bad film.

** beware of spoilers comrade **
The Plot
Compass is the story of Lyra Belacqua, a supposed orphan living in a universe where people’s souls (called “demons”) take the shape of animals and live outside the body. This world is dominated by an evil version of the Catholic Church called the Magisterium, which suppresses independent thought. Moreover, the Magisterium is kidnapping children to perform surgery on them to sever their connections to these demons, which makes the kids into zombies. Investigating the disappearances are a group of gypsies un-creatively called “Gyptians,” whose children are being stolen (flipping the age-old European complaint that gypsies steal children).

Lyra is the daughter of Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), an evil rich woman who conspires with the Magisterium to steal the children. But Coulter apparently doesn’t know Lyra is her daughter. Lyra’s father, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) also doesn't know Lyra is his daughter (or they're both lying). Asriel is an enemy of the Magisterium and intends to travel north to prove there is no God. When he leaves, Lyra is given a golden compass that lets her see vague answers to some questions. Then a series of CGI fight scenes ensue which involve the Gyptians, talking polar bears, a guy with a flying ship, and flying witches. The end.
This Is A Bad Film
As a film, this is a turd. The Magisterium is a cartoon villain. It wants to turn kids into zombies to protect its power, which really isn't in danger. And the plot is minimal: go north, save the kids. The film tells us Lyra is important to all of this, but never tells us why. She moves from scene to scene seemingly randomly, as the other characters usher her to the places she needs to be to make the plot work. She does nothing personally. And in the end, she saves the day by being led to the ending scene, where everyone else fights a big battle.

The actions of the individual characters also make little sense, except that their actions tie them to Lyra. The Gyptians are dirt poor, live on boats and travel the world, yet for some reason they drop their kids off at Lyra’s private school. When those kids go missing, they seek out Lyra for no particular reason except that she’s a main character. Coulter decides to coopt Lyra for no particular reason except that she’s a main character. Irresponsible, 12 year old Lyra is given this priceless golden compass which the scholars apparently never bothered to examine because she is the main character. The witches are attracted to her because she’s a main character. Etc. etc.

The story is also full of pointless story arcs that wait for the sequel. For example, Asriel announces his great crusade, gets caught immediately, and is then forgotten until the post-plot voice-over wrap up. Even if you're expecting a sequel, it's still bad filmmaking to treat your film like it's part of a series rather than treating it like a complete story. Indeed, this film feels like half a movie. Moreover, halfway through the story, the writer suddenly loses interest in the plot and just inserts a series of CGI fight scenes until the credits roll.

The acting stinks too. Dakota Richards plays Lyra like a reject from a Dickens play and comes across like English gutter trash. Daniel Craig bizarrely plays each scene angrily and with his hand jammed into his pants. Kidman acts like someone shoved an ice cube up her rear. Everybody else is a tired stereotype. Even the score mocks the film at times.
The Propaganda Factor
Even worse, Compass is propaganda. The author of the books is an atheist with a lot of hatred for religion and he apparently intends these books as a lure to draw children to angry atheism. Consequently, at its core, Compass is an anti-religious and anti-Catholic tirade.

For example, it’s obvious the Magisterium represents the Catholic Church. The word "Magisterium" actually means the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Similarly, throughout the film, Catholic terminology is used for various characters and various practices, and they even decorate their buildings with Christian icons. So how is this ersatz Church represented in the film? The Magisterium is intentionally kidnapping and hurting children because they are afraid that people will learn the truth, that there is no God, and thus, the Magisterium will lose its power. To suggest that the Catholic Church believes there is no God, but only uses the myth of God to maintain its power is blatant slander. And hiding this suggestion by changing the name of the church is cowardly.

And make no mistake, the series clearly states there is no God in our universe. According to the books, there was an angel named “The Authority.” He was the first being in the universe and was made from a substance known as dust. Because he was first and an evil liar, he pretends to be the creator of the universe so that people will worship him. He is also specifically identified as the God of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish religions in our universe, whom he has tricked to follow him. He is eventually captured and dies when he tries to escape his prison.

The studio told the screenwriter to downplay the anti-religious themes, but he admits he left them in the film by hiding them behind “euphemisms.” Thus, there is no specific mention of the word “God” for example, though you’d have to be an idiot not to know that is being discussed. Even this, however, was too much for atheist groups who called this “censorship” and “castrating” the books, which they see as the anti-Narnia series.

Moreover, there was a very dishonest public relations campaign surrounding the film. The cast and crew repeatedly denied any attempt to push atheism and claimed this was a lie pushed by right-wing religious crazies -- even as the writer was trying to assure the atheist community that this film would remain true to the atheist mission of the books. And aiding them in their deception, they paraded around Nicole Kidman (a supposedly devout Catholic), who would do interviews in which she assured the audience she would never do any film that attacked the Catholic Church. Uh huh. The “useful idiot” is alive and well.
I have no problem with atheists, as I believe everyone is entitled to their beliefs and has a right to try to convince others of their beliefs. But I do have a problem with deception, and everything about this film is deceptive. Compass is propaganda. It has a specific political agenda that it pushes while pretending it isn’t pushing that agenda. And they are trying to convince parents to show this to their children under false pretenses. This is exactly why people don't trust Hollywood anymore.


Tennessee Jed said...

Andy - because I tend not to see my grandchildren that often, I have not seen as many "children's films." I sure remember the huge amount of advertising associated with this film. I guess it doesn't surprise me that Hollywood would choose to do this one, given their general hatred of Christianity. Appreciate the good review. {the review not the film ;-) }From time to time, my neighbors bring their grandkids to see a movie at my theatre. You can rest assured I'll NEVER EVER screen this one. Pity, I like Daniel Craig, and Nicole (even if she got a bad botox job.)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, You're welcome. This would be a good one to avoid. Not only is it not entertaining, but it's deceptive. As I said, I don't mind atheists or anyone else telling what they believe and putting their beliefs in stories. Everyone has that right and I respect it. I might not listen or care, but they have that right.

BUT, I do mind deception. When they tried to sell this as not promoting atheism and then attacked their critics as hypersensitive liars, that bothered me a lot. Then seeing as how overdone it is too, it's not just propaganda, it's bad propaganda.

It is a shame too because I also like Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman and I think the imagery in the film had some great potential. It just needed a much better story -- one concerned with entertaining rather than brainwashing.

Ed said...

Andrew, After this film was mentioned the other day, I thought you might review it. I saw most of it, but never stuck around to the end. I don't know how anyone could miss the overtones that the Catholic Church was being attacked. It was downright insulting and I'm not even Catholic.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I think it's obvious. They didn't even try to disguise it. In fact, as I note, they use Catholic terminology throughout the films to let you know exactly what you are supposed to be thinking. And the evil characters who populate the church are pathetic stereotypes. If this group had been used to reprsent other religions, e.g. Judaism, I think Hollywood would have scream that the film was anti-Semetic. But Hollywood doesn't like the Catholic Church, so anything is fair game.

Anonymous said...

When this movie came out, I was a Phillip Pullman type atheist, meaning I irritated everyone around me with my atheism and then some.
But watching the movie just reminded me how horrible the golden compass series was. I read tolkien when i was 13 and loved it. Funny thing, the librarians kept pushing the golden compass books at me and there were no tolkien paperbacks to be found (this was 1999, before the movies). I finally picked up the golden compass and just didn't like it. I even checked out an audiobook version and ended up hating it even more.
Now that I'm still an atheist but a new conservative, I am so glad this movie bombed.
Not that atheists can't write good books, I'd recommend Diana Wynne Jones, but militant atheists can't help their nihilist outlook, which never works with children's stories.
Terry Pratchett is a very funny author, but his Cohen the barbarian character is a good example of unintentional nihilism. No kid wants to emulate a character that tells him he's going to end up as a bag of bones with no teeth, even if that's the truth, presented in a very funny and absurd way.

CrispyRice said...

I was warned off this one when it first came out. I figured I'd see it eventually whenever I could catch it for free somewhere. But I'll definitely be watching with a wary eye.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, That's funny -- no kid wants to emulate a character that tells him he's going to end up as a bag of bones with no teeth. LOL! True.

As I note, I have nothing against atheists or anyone else who wants to tell people what they believe, but I don't like deception and I don't like militancy either (in any type of belief). If you can convince me of something, great, but you can't force me to believe something. And just pounding away at a theme has never worked -- it just irritates people.

In terms of whether atheists can write good children's books, I don't see why they can't. But it is admittedly a harder sell to sell an atheist story to kids because kids like to think of big mysteries out there (e.g. Santa) and telling them "there's nothing out there" will probably not be very attractive to kids. But I guess if it's not the main theme, then there's reason atheists couldn't come up with good stories too?

I haven't read Prachett or Jones, so I can't comment on their work.

I'm glad the film bombed too because I think if it had succeeded, it would have spawned a series of immitators and we would have been awash in message movies for kids.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I tried to watch the movie the first time for its film values and its plot. Couldn't get past the clear anti-Catholic prejudice and gave up about halfway through. The next time, I tried fairly successfully to ignore the anti-Catholic propaganda, and it was still a lousy movie. The production values were good, not great, but the plot was nonsensical and just plain silly. I couldn't even enjoy it as childish fantasy. Still haven't seen the movie all the way through (though I got very close once), and I suspect I won't bother trying again.

AndrewPrice said...

CrispyRice, I remember the fight when this came out. My first thought was that they were just poking the religious community to get some free publicity. But it seems they way overdid it this time and rather than generate the kind of controversy that gets people to see the film, people stayed away.

Maybe the difference is that parents kept their kids away, whereas they might have seen the movie to see what the controversy is about if it had been an adult movie?

Either way, it did bomb in the US. It made money worldwide, but because of the way the rights were divided, it ended up being a bomb for the studio.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I doubt you missed much. It literally just ends with a series of CGI fight scenes.

I agree about the movie being insulting. I can usually separate movies and politics and just enjoy a film based solely on its merit as a movie, but the politics here were just so overbearing. Moreover, the film stunk. As you say, it wasn't even a good fantasy story if you could put the politics aside.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I remember when I first heard about this movie, and as you might suspect, I was not amused. I haven't seen it, I have no intention to, and I'm glad it bombed.

I think Pullman actually did intend these books as a rebuttal or inversion of C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series--which, of course, is still wildly popular today while Pullman's stuff is, um, not. From a couple of other books he wrote, I gather he was of the opinion that Jesus probably existed and was a nice guy and everything, but then after he died those horrible apostles of his started claiming he was the Son of God, and so on.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I'll see most anything (or at least give it a chance) because you never know what you'll find that turns out to be a good film. But this one deserved the criticism and it deserved to bomb.

On Pullman, I don't have a specific quote from him, but several people from atheist groups did refer to this as the anti-Narnia books.

What strikes me about them though is that whereas Narnia clearly has religious overtones, it's still a story first and foremost that you can enjoy at face value without having the politics jammed into your face. It's the same with the Lord of the Rings, you can read those books a hundred times and never once bother to think that there is a larger, religious point being made.

Golden Compass, by comparison, never achieves that level of sophistication. Instead, it feels like the point to the story is to tell you how horrible the Church is and anything that happens apart from that is just filler. I think that's where Pullman fails.

Doc Whoa said...

It's interesting that liberals always complain that everyone else turns to violence to solve their problems, even in stories. They always preech non-violence and "peaceful resolution." But whenever they write stories, they ignore that. This is a case in point. Every single dispute in this story gets solved through violence.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, That's a good point about the hypocrisy. It's the sane thing with guns. They claim to hate guns and don't want people having them, but every single film Hollywood produces uses a gun.

T-Rav said...

Actually, they seem to like coercion in general, at least when it comes to promoting their beliefs. Funny how that works.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Very true. It's amazing how many time "volunteer" translates into "forced" in the liberal lexicon. I think that comes from the core difference between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives can accept a world in which people are allowed to make up their own minds and choose their own paths. Liberals cannot. They want a world in which super-people tell everyone else how to live. The only way you can achieve that is to use force.

But since they convince themselves that their views are good for everyone, they don't see it as force... they see it as helping people.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the film so I just have a few general thoughts...

I guess the anti-religious content is too blatant for even non-religious people to deny. What I'm getting at is this... look at Brazil. Both liberals and conservatives take credit for it but this film doesn't seem to have that kind of appeal and nuance (i.e.: conservatives can't take this film and claim it's about, say, big government since Pullman doesn't leave anything to the imagination).

I hope that made sense!

From the way you describe it, it would appear that this film had a lot of footage cut from it at some point. A look at the IMDb trivia page confirms this. I assume if the film had been more successful, a director's cut might've been released.

I remember watching the Oscars and being sooo disappointed that this film won Best Visual Effects over Transformers. (I don't care tons about the Oscars but I still follow the tech categories.)

Now if you'll excuse me, Predator 2 is on Fox Movie Channel. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, This film won several undeserved awards -- mainly in Europe.

In terms of the politics, this film entirely lacked subtlety. It was very obvious what the message is and it beat you over the head with it.

This and Brazil are very different movies. Brazil can be liked by both sides because (frankly) liberals are not self-aware. They see Brazil as an attack on Nazis, which they like to think are capitalists. Ergo, they see Brazil as supporting them. But the reality is that Brazil is an indictment of their own views.... they aren't self aware enough to understand that their own views are being attacked, i.e. they assume this is meant as an attack on "bad people" and they don't see themselves as bad.

Conservatives like Brazil because it indicts everything liberals believe.

Compass cannot be similarly confused. The message of Compass is pure liberalism. No conservative will think it has anything nice to say to conservatives. So the only people who can like it are doctrinaire liberals and even most of them don't like it.

Thus, the two aren't really comparable.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Scott, they've got Zaroz on here, not Predator 2. What a crapfest!

DUQ said...

Andrew, This film stunk. That's about the only way to say it. I knew what message they were selling, but I didn't care because the film itself just left me cold.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, One of the keys to good propaganda is to make it an enjoyable story. People will overlook a lot if they like the story. This never achieved that, and that made the message stand out all the more.

Anonymous said...

Well, obviously Zardoz wasn't on yet when I tuned in. :-)

I think the point I was trying to make (in a rather ineloquent fashion) was that, very often people see a large organization in a film, whether it's the Magisterium or the Ministry of Whatever in Brazil and often apply their own feelings and prejudices to that. "Oh, that's supposed to represent Big Government or the Church of XYZ, etc." But this film's message is so on the nose that the viewer is not given that opportunity. "It's the Catholic Church and if you think otherwise, you're wrong!"

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's true. Brazil never tells you "this is the Thatcher government." Gilliam leaves it up to the viewer to understand that's what he's trying to portray. The problem is the clues actually lead you somewhere else.

Here, they also don't tell you "this is the Catholic Church." BUT, unlike Brazil, they leave no doubt. They use Catholic words and concepts to create the Magisterium and they put the Magisterium in the same position the Catholic Church holds in Europe. It would be like having a story about the first black President of American and naming him Farrak Democrat-Hobama, who comes from Chicago and wants to pass universal health care. You can say this could be anyone, but only an idiot wouldn't know exactly who it is.

El Gordo said...

Interestingly, The Golden Compass bombed only in the sense that it underperformed badly in the US.
It made over $300 million in foreign markets, most of it in Old Europe (UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy), Japan, South Korea .. and it did well in Australia. But its underperformance in the US at least ensured that there will be no sequels. For now.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

The modern atheist is the angry doppelganger of the annoying Evangelical Jesus freaks of the 1970s (my people... I love them I do)... always going on about their beliefs and beating people over the head with their scripture (The Epistles of Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens). Just as some of the theology was muddled by these otherwise well-meaning folks the post modern atheist eaves logic at the door in their rage.

Kidman may be a devout Catholic, but how she could stay with an even more devout Scientologist for that long leaves her lack of intelligence in little doubt.

I avoided this movie like the plague and while I won't censor much I played the Dad executive card and have kept the books away from my kids. My oldest son started reading it -- and hated it like 3 chapters in so we never even had to have a discussion on it.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, True. The film vastly underperformed in the US, but did well in Western Europe where atheism is becoming the order of the day. I think that shows that the cultural divide between the US and Western Europe is indeed real.

They made the claim initially that the reason there wasn't a sequel was that the recession hit and that killed the sequel. But the sequel seemed to die before the recession.

It strikes me that they are afraid of making a movie that will only play well in Western Europe, which only rarely provides enough money to support a film. Also, the deal the studio cut to get distribution overseas spread the profits so far and wide that nobody really made any money on the film. This film is actually considered the last straw for New Line, which was absorbed into their parent company after this film.

In terms of a sequel, I wonder if the stars will be as willing to get involved in a sequel knowing that the effect could be bad on their careers in the US?

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I think the comparison is an apt one. I've known several atheists who were willing to talk about their beliefs, but never tried to force them on anyone (ditto with people of various religious persuasions). I'm fine with all of those people. But then I've also know people (atheist and religious) who just try to beat you over the head with it and swear that everyone else is an idiot for not believing what they believe, etc. etc. Those people are annoying. They do so much damage to their cause.

Right now, there seems to be a very public version of angry atheism that has attached itself to the left (or the other way around) which just lives to cause problems. These are the people who sue to get the Ten Commandments removed from walls, 200 year old crosses taken down from public parks, and the word "God" taken off our money. Their goal seems to be the eradication from any trace of religion in public.

That's funny with your son. LOL!

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Andrew... there's a strain of angry -- maybe dismissive is more apt -- atheism on the Right also... Heather MacDonald, Walter Olsen, et al. (I love both of their writings btw and I'm sure they're nice).

I don't mind not believing, but how anyone with 2 brain cells thinks the Church or Christianity has been a cancer on Western civilization... well I'm sorry but that's retarded, stupid, illogical -- pick your pejorative. I'm a Baptist -- we pretty much invented total separation of Church and State "freedom of conscience". Saying Christians have been harmful to society is akin to me saying Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato were harmful to Western Civ.

Back to Pullman et al. that's the problem with anger... it clouds the Reason. It also clouds ability. The main sin of The Golden Compass is that it blows. It's the atheist version of Left Behind (which also blows -- God help me).

I told my daughter "NO" when she was like 4 and she wanted a My Pretty Pony book... I don't mind the toys, but the books were/are gawd-awful. "Why Daddy?" "Well sweetheart. Those books suck and it's Daddy's job to protect you from sucky books." My wife was mad, but I have a line. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I have to agree with you about Left Behind... it's not good.

And you're 100% right about Christianity. Whatever you believe of the theology, Christianity has been exceedingly good for the West. It gave us all the principles that we enjoy today, such as freedom of thought, tolerance, and respect for the individual. The same principles that the left falsely loves to claim Christianity opposes. I don't know if the left is simply being dishonest about this or if they just are that historically ignorant? But I suspect it's a little of both.

I also think it's no coincidence that the great mass murders of history have all disdained Christianity because it flies in the face of the values they wanted to force upon their people. They didn't want their people thinking of genuine freedom or tolerance or forgiveness, they wanted their people thinking of themselves as victims and seeking revenge.

Has Christianity had bad periods? Absolutely. The Crusades come to mind. But that was 1600 years ago. Nothing similar has been seen out of Christianity since. But very similar things have been seen out of Islam and the atheistic Soviets, yet somehow those are dismissed as the work of a crazy few rather than being understood as the core of the belief.

I think you're right too that anger clouds your judgment and your writing talent. Writing requires a lot of careful thought, you really can't "write angry." And the more you are focused on expressing your anger (or indeed, shoving any particular point down people's throats), the less you are likely to make convincing points or be able to engage in effective storytelling.

That's funny with your daughter. But truthfully, it's a good lesson to teach kids that they should consider quality in their decisions too.

really? said...

"This world is dominated by an evil version of the Catholic Church called the Magisterium, which suppresses independent thought"

The Catholic Church called for a boycott of this movie and have scared off the studio from making a sequel. Sounds like suppression of independent thought to me!

This comment will not be posted on the blog i'm sure because it disagrees... sounds like suppression of independent thought to me!

I am a member of several forums and blogs and have never had to have my comments screened.


(oh, and btw, nowhere in this film are they promoting atheism. In these modern times religion is about "why" not "how". The dust mentioned is similar to particles [atoms, molecules, compounds, etc.] Science does not promote atheism, it enriches and prolongs our lives.

AndrewPrice said...

Dear "really", if that is your real name...

It sounds like you have some serious persecution issues.

And if you don't see how this film promotes atheism, then you aren't really all that observant are you... or that bright? The writer himself has conceded the point. And that makes your point pretty stupid, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

From my perspective it wasn't a bad movie at all, maybe it was a bad adaptation because they mutilate a lot of content. I remember reading those books when I was 11 years old... and I just loved them... yes there was a lot of criticism to catholicism but I wasn't really interested in that, as a child I was amazed by the adventures... the story was just beautiful

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