A complete version of that Atlantic Monthly article on The Golden Compass has been posted here, and alas, no, it does not seem that either I or my colleague were quoted. But I am struck by the following paragraphs:
The final, shooting script includes no mention of sin or the end of death. As [New Line Cinema's production president Toby] Emmerich told me, Dust is “akin to the Force” in Star Wars. Coulter tells Lyra that Dust is “evil and wicked” and makes people “sick.” Asriel sounds like Obi-Wan Kenobi: “They taught themselves to fear Dust, instead of master it,” he says. “They’ve ignored a tremendous source of power … That is what it all comes down to, Lyra. That is what Dust is. Power. Without it, we are like children before the might of the Magisterium.”
It may make sense if you’re in a dark room dazzled by special effects and not thinking too hard. Then again, maybe it won’t. What’s left of Pullman’s story is a string of disconnected proclamations that obscure not just his original point, but any point at all: “Master Dust!” “Freedom is at stake!” “We’re not alone. We’re never alone! We have each other.” They satisfy, but they don’t really explain. Or perhaps they offer explanations so familiar and straightforward that they don’t invite questions. . . .
Marketing plans aside, New Line executives likely believe they were doing Pullman no great disservice by stripping out his theology and replacing it with some vague derivative of the Force. Values such as obedience, religious devotion, and chastity are so rare in Hollywood’s culture that they probably seem archaic and quaint—courtly rules that no one lives by anyway. Certainly not something to get exercised over.
It occurs to me that, if Philip Pullman’s fans are upset that his story has been dumbed down so that the anti-theistic elements are now indistinguishable from the Force, then it may be some small comfort to them that the pro-theistic elements in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) got the same treatment. To quote the review of that film written by my friend Jeffrey Overstreet:
While other characters’ roles have been expanded, the lion’s appearances are painfully brief. He doesn’t have the time onscreen to earn our affection and awe the way we might have hoped. And scene by scene, the writers consistently skirt the issue of Aslan’s authority, eliminating most references to his history, power, and influence. Aslan’s father, the Emperor-beyond-the-sea, is never mentioned. Instead, the lion waxes philosophical like Obi-Wan Kenobi, mentioning the Deep Magic that “governs” his “destiny.” Huh?
So it’s not like Hollywood has any particular agenda here. Hollywood just has a habit of turning distinctive stories into pale replicas of proven hits. Especially when the proven hit was a mushy universalist pastiche of existing beliefs to begin with.