Posted on Wed, Dec. 05, 2007
Catholic bishops give thumbs-up to `Golden Compass'
"The Golden Compass" � and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials
trilogy of novels on which it is based � has been criticized in some
quarters for being anti-religious and specifically anti-Catholic.
But the U.S. Conference of Bishops recently issued its official
review of the film � and it's a rave.
Writing for the Catholic News Service (catholicnews. com), critics
Harry Forbes and John Mulderig call the movie "lavish, well-acted and
"The good news," they write, "is that the first book's explicit
references to this church have been completely excised, with only the
term Magisterium retained. The choice is still a bit unfortunate,
however, as the word refers so specifically to the church's teaching
authority. Yet the film's only clue that the Magisterium is a
religious body comes in the form of the icons which decorate one of
their local headquarters.
"Most moviegoers with no foreknowledge of the books or Pullman's
personal belief system will scarcely be aware of religious
connotations, and can approach the movie as a pure fantasy-adventure.
This is not the blatant real-world anti-Catholicism of, say, the
recent `Elizabeth: The Golden Age' or `The Da Vinci Code.' Religious
elements, as such, are practically nil."
While noting that "Pullman's fanciful universe has a patchwork feel,
with elements culled from other fantasy-adventure stories � most
especially The Chronicles of Narnia (a work Pullman disdains)," the
review goes on to say that the film has "hardly a dull moment."
Whatever Pullman's motives in writing the story, the film "can be
viewed as an exciting adventure story with, at its core, a
traditional struggle between good and evil and a generalized
rejection of authoritarianism, " the review says. "To the extent that
Lyra" � the movie's young heroine � "and her allies are taking a
stand on behalf of free will in opposition to the coercive force of
the Magisterium, they are of course acting entirely in harmony with
Catholic teaching. The heroism and self-sacrifice that they
demonstrate provide appropriate moral lessons �
"Is Pullman trying to undermine anyone's belief in God? Leaving the
books aside and focusing on what has ended up on screen, the script
can reasonably be interpreted in the broadest sense as an appeal
against the abuse of political power."
Addressing the question of whether the film may inspire teens to read
the books, the writers suggest that "rather than banning the movie or
books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any
thorny philosophical issues with their teens."
The religious themes of the later books may be more prominent in the
follow-up films, they note, but for now "this film � altered, as it
is, from its source material � rates as intelligent and well-crafted