Catholics and Secularists diss Golden Compass


If you’re offending people on both sides of any given issue, does it necessarily follow that you must be doing something right?

It was completely unsurprising when Bill Donohue of the Catholic League released a statement a few days ago condemning The Golden Compass. They tend to go after a lot of things.

But now comes this report from the Observer, a British paper:

One of the key religious themes of Philip Pullman’s award-winning series of children’s novels, His Dark Materials, has been watered down to appeal to a wider audience in the new Hollywood film version of the first book. The original story’s rejection of organised religion, and in particular of the historic abuse of power in the Catholic Church, has been altered to avoid offending followers of the faith in the UK and in America. . . .

While Pullman himself has said he believes ‘the outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they have done’, the National Secular Society – of which the author is an honorary associate – has now spoken out against the changes.

‘It was clear right from the start that the makers of this film intended to take out the anti-religious elements of Pullman’s book,’ said Terry Sanderson, president of the society. ‘In doing that they are taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it. It seems that religion has now completely conquered America’s cultural life and it is much the poorer for it. What a shame that we have to endure such censorship here too.’ . . .

Whenever Donohue opens his mouth and takes a shot at some movie looming on the horizon, commentators are usually quick to point out that he is condemning something he hasn’t even seen yet. Methinks that criticism applies to Sanderson, too.

OCT 17 UPDATE: Pullman comments on the recent complaints in an interview with the Western Mail, a Welsh newspaper:

He told the Western Mail, “This must be the only film attacked in the same week for being too religious and for being anti-religious – and by people who haven’t seen it.” . . .

The author yesterday refused to reveal any more about the film, although he admitted he was happy with what he had seen during a series of visits to the set.

“I’ve been kept informed with what’s going on – I have very friendly and happy relations with the film-makers and I’m very happy with what they are doing,” he said.

“All these stories have been generally mischievous and they have all been written without knowledge of what the film is like.

“As far as I know, these people have not seen the script or shots of the film.” . . .

The final word, as far as Pullman is concerned, for those who want to comment on the movie’s content: “Why not wait and see.”

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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