Monday, February 7, 2011
Day 38: The Golden Compass (2007)
PG-13, 1 hr. 58 min. Directed by: Chris Weitz. Release Date: December 7, 2007. DVD Release Date: April 29, 2008.
There was a lot of controversy in this movie, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. I get that people think the book is about killing God, but I don't get WHY people think this movie about killing God. Like what parts specifically get people all fired up. The book was written by an atheist, true, but it's been my experience that with few exceptions, atheists give more respect to others' beliefs than are shown to their own beliefs. That's a generalization and not a universal, but it meets my life experience to date. And by atheist, I don't mean "I gave up religion for Lent a few years back and have never been happier" way, but with a complete and total lack of faith of any kind.
I asked around, talking to people who I knew to be… devout and tolerant, which seems to be a ridiculously rare combination of personality traits. My answers were unsatisfying. No one seemed to be able to point out what, specifically, was the problem, because they themselves had not been exposed to either the books or the film… but they knew it to be bad because of what they'd heard. I would have been happier to hear more "I didn't appreciate these aspects of the film/book…" and less "I don't like this because I heard these things from my [insert name of religious leader here]." I do have to give props to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for suggesting parents talk through potential moral conundrums with their kids rather than banning the film. I can't find fault with encouraging people to think for themselves.
Now, if the complaint is the portrayal of an organized government hierarchy as a form of mind control… I'm not sure the answers I got invalidate that, since most people who answered my questions let their opinions be formed secondhand (often by people who themselves didn't have firsthand experience of the book or film). And I'm certainly not sure that more than one organized religious body hasn't behaved in exactly the manner portrayed in the film… from a historical perspective. Although when I broached that subject, I mostly got shocked, incredulous faces from people. Am I the only one who remembers their world history class? I may not LIKE organized religion, but I do know some things about the heavy hitters in the league and even some of the small ones. 6 years of parochial school and 4 years in a Jesuit-founded college did not exactly make me a dull boy.
As for the film, I love the CGI work done for the daemons. I know this got a lot of bad press, but I think the creatures created not only worked within the framework of the film, but are sure to put a smile on the face of any kids who might be watching. I think the settings and set design also help that sense of wonder along, but the magic often takes a back seat to the mayhem in the film, which include a wide swath of violence, rage, child abuse, racism, kidnapping and substance abuse. Quite honestly, I would think the secular problems in the movie would create far more objections than any potential religious overtones, but you know, the whole Lent thing, so I could be wrong. I also think WAY too many people have ignored the positive messages in the film, such as doing the right thing, how to be a loyal friend and being brave in the face of adversity. More of our children should learn such lessons.
I have to agree with most of the critics that the acting is pretty atrocious. Some people have propped up Nicole Kidman as the sole source of real skill used in the film, but I think that's overly generous. Half the time, she ends up sounding like her character from Bewitched. Most of the body language is similar, too, although I do tend to think that Nicole Kidman has a handful or two of personalities shelved in her pretty head that she brings out for each of her movies. Eventually, those personalities have to be used a second, and third, and even a fourth time. It used to be that I thought Beastmaster the worst-acted fantasy movie… but The Golden Compass beats it out, largely because the star-powered cast is filled with people who have done better elsewhere. Several times.
So, if you're considering this movie for your family you have a few things to consider. Think about how devout you are. Think about how willing you are to deal with potential questions about God from your kids, although this isn't exactly as unsubtle as the Jesus-allegory lion in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, so they may not even make the connection (as I didn't). Consider whether or not your kids are in any danger of becoming atheistic heathens because they watched a movie. If none of these are a concern, you might have a fun evening with your kids in your future. If they all are a concern, look for something else. The choice is yours.