And now, back to the positive spin.


After a few weeks of bad rumours and noisy protests against The Golden Compass, today brought a couple of stories in which people associated with the movie gave it a more positive spin.

Well, okay, Roger Friedman of FoxNews.com is not associated with the movie himself. But presumably the folks who showed him half-an-hour of footage from the film — footage that prompted Friedman to predict that it will be “the big holiday smash hit for which Hollywood is so desperate” — are associated with it.

Friedman tries to give the impression that all the rumours about the film are wrong, wrong, wrong, but he doesn’t give one the impression that he knows those rumours very well, e.g.:

Meantime, message boards on the Internet seem to be panicking that somehow “The Golden Compass” is being re-edited or changed in some way by the studio. But what I’ve seen indicates that director Chris Weitz — who still has two more episodes to go — is in charge, and that what’s coming is his vision. Nothing can change Ian McKellen as the voice of a wise (but dangerous) polar bear.

Um, but Roger, the casting of McKellen as the voice of the bear is one of the last-minute changes that have been made to this film — and what’s more, Weitz has openly said that he didn’t want to make that change, because he liked the original actor.

Incidentally, a parallel story on the controversy over the trilogy’s anti-religious elements also gives one the impression that the FoxNews.com reporter, in this case Catherine Donaldson-Evans, doesn’t know the subject all that well. E.g., she writes:

The film itself is unlikely to offend — because New Line Cinema has tried to keep religion out of it, focusing on the story of a little girl named Lyra and her journey to a strange, parallel universe. . . .

Lyra travels to an alternative universe where everyone has a spiritual alter-ego, or demon, in animal form — and she goes there not knowing what she’ll find or what her role will be. In her quest for the truth, she seeks a magical golden compass that has the answers for those savvy enough to decipher it. . . .

Um, Lyra does not “travel” or “journey” to that parallel universe — she is born into it! And if memory serves, she doesn’t “seek” the golden compass — rather, it is given to her early on in the story. (I will let the misspelling of “daemon” pass, since it might have been an editor and not the reporter who made that mistake.)

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times got a few comments from the story’s original author, Philip Pullman, when he made a trip to Chicago for the Humanities Festival there. An excerpt:

Pullman, an unapologetic freethinker, remains serene. “I don’t think that these people who criticize me, who accuse me of being evil, have actually read the books,” he says. “An honest reading of the novels would have to accept that the values they celebrate are love, kindness, compassion, tolerance and open-mindedness; the values criticized are cruelty, coldheartedness, intolerance and so on. I think the morality of the books is absolutely secure.” . . .

And what of the movie, which went through several screenplays (one written by Tom Stoppard) and, early on, had a change of director before New Line settled on Chris Weitz?

“It looks fabulous,” Pullman says. “It was always going to be a very expensive and complicated movie to make because of all sorts of technical difficulties that had to be overcome. How do you make armored bears appear as if they’re real? But computer graphics have come a long way, and it looks absolutely wonderful; the sets, the designs, the costumes are beyond praise because of the richness of detail.”

The cast? “Just astounding. Nicole Kidman gives a magnificent performance, in that she’s able to embody the utter ruthlessness of the character as well as the slowly growing sense that actually she does love this child, something she never thought was possible.”

And as Lyra, there’s Dakota Blue Richards, who’d never acted before and was “plucked out of thousands” who auditioned for the role. “Lyra is at the very center of the story, so her performance was crucial. Fortunately, she’s wonderful.”

The best news for Pullman’s fans may be that he isn’t done with the His Dark Materials characters yet. Next spring, he says, he’ll publish Once Upon a Time in the North, a novella about the early adventures of Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison. He’s also in the early stages of working on The Book of Dust, a new novel about Lyra, this time at the age of 16.

So, it looks like there will be lots more to talk about in the two or three years between The Golden Compass and its sequels.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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