The Golden Compass

8 out of 13 nots
for Steampunk Style and the Best Use of Polar Bears in a movie, ever!

All in all, I was not horribly impressed with The Golden Compass. After all the hoopla and hoohaa, I really expected something more subversive than this, you know, since the Christians are telling people to avoid its atheist message. Frankly, its no more subversive than any other fantasy film, and really the only problem I could imagine a Christian having with it is that it isn’t Narnia, a movie that positively drips with Christian themes.

More after the break.

The absolute best thing in this movie is the Steampunk style. If you don’t know what that is, read up on it here. The short version is that its advanced technology with a Victorian Era bent to it. While the term itself didn’t show up until the 1980’s, the style has been around for a long time. Think Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. So instead of airplanes, you get zeppelin style airships powered by more modern type sources. And while I dig this style in books, it really comes alive on the screen or the illustrated page. The movie is, much like all recent CGI laden spectacles, breathtaking. In fact, so frequent are these types of films, they are almost becoming common (as is likely why when low budget garbage like the Flash Gordon TV show use no CGI, crappy sets and a red lens filter to create another world it really just sucks any possible life out of the show… not that Flash Gordon would have been better with CGI, the scripts were horrible too).

Beyond the setting, the armored bears that appear in the film are just awesome. Computer graphics have come a long way over the years, and these days its to the point that, except when trying to render humans, it almost looks real. In fact, scratch the almost. Personally, at no point during the film did I look at the bear in comparison to the people around it and say, “Oh, that’s obviously fake.” The only downside to the bears were that they made me crave Coca-Cola through the whole movie. Damn advertising.

Outside of the special effects and screen magic, the story of The Golden Compass was really quite… well… bland. Strange world… people with souls that take on animal form and walk beside them… check. Evil empire… Magisterium… check. A resistance… Lord Asriel and friends… check. And one child who can save the world… Lyra… check. Not once during the entire two hours of the film was I surprised at anything. I’ve been told though, had they not ripped so much out of the book to make the movie, I might have been thrown a twist or two.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, one of the things that intrigued me about this movie was that the Christians were protesting it. My wife had told me that the books were quite a bit anti-Church, so I was interested to see if it was really something worth protesting. Of course, something being not worth protesting doesn’t mean people won’t still protest it. In any event, I settled in to have the pillars of my religious upbringing shaken to the foundation… but it never happened. After the movie, I was filled in on all the elements removed and understated in the film, most of which I saw not as trying to remove the atheism, but of trying to make the book fit into two hours. It just happened that much of the atheism was thrown out in the process. The Golden Compass comes off more as a generic anti-establishment tale, a desire for knowledge and freedom over ignorance and oppression. Having flipped through the book, I can see how it is anti-Church, but in the movie the Magisterium is never referred to as Church. No mention of Popes or anything.

So, in the end, parents, if you are worried about your kids seeing this movie and coming out not believing in God… well… don’t. The Golden Compass is an entertaining fantasy movie, with a dash of style and a bunch of kick-ass armored bears. This movie will stir up no deep discussions that any other fantasy film wouldn’t. I gave this movie an 8 out of 13. A 7 on this scale means that I wasn’t bored, that I don’t feel my time was wasted (time wasting starts at a 6). I wasn’t greatly entertained but it didn’t suck, and some of the CGI was really cool. I’d suggest waiting for the DVD, or if you must see it on the big screen, don’t pay full price.


  1. One of the reasons I’ve seen voiced among christian groups for caution is that the MOVIE itself isn’t very anti-christian, but the books are. Parents watching the movie may get the books for their children without knowing about this stark difference.

    Also, keep in mind that the media hype lumps the folk crying for “boycott” with others who just give cautionary warnings. In general, the Catholic Church’s directive with media is to help parents make informed decisions on the media their children are exposed to. It’s not about censorship- anti-catholic views in the media may be a good opening for discussion of cultural differences or failings in our past.

    Most of this, to me, seems to be more of the media trying to make an issue where one barely exists. Most christians I talk to are unaware or uninterested in the movie. It hasn’t been brought up once at any service I’ve attended, nor have any half-baked editorials littered the local paper- a place that’s usually filled with crackpot extremist rantings.

  2. It has been brought to my attention that the books clearly state that the Magisterium is the Catholic Church, John Calvin was a Pope, and that the “dust” is believed to be Original Sin. The Magisterium is trying to save the world from Sin while the others (the Heroes) are trying to embrace the Sin and travel to other worlds. Supposedly the series leads to the Heroes needing to kill God to save the universe or something like that.

    None of that is in the movies. At least none of the overtones and Church stuff. There is dust, the Magisterium is trying to save people from it, and the Heroes are trying to prove we don’t need to be saved.

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