Why the “it’s not anti-religious, it’s only anti-abusive forms of religion” meme doesn’t fly.

They’re at it again: The director and co-stars of The Golden Compass have told the Globe and Mail that their film is not “anti-religious”, even though, in the book at least, all the religious characters are evil and, in the sequels, God himself is depicted as a lying, decrepit angel who needs to be killed.

Daniel Craig is quoted as saying, “These books are not anti-religious. I think that mainly they’re anti-misuse of power – whether it’s religious or political.” And Chris Weitz is quoted as saying, “I don’t happen to believe that His Dark Materials is an anti-religious or anti-Catholic series of books. I think that Philip Pullman is against the abuse of religion, the abuse of God for political power.”

Nothing personal against these guys, whose work I have often admired. But I am so tired of hearing this line of argument. It simply doesn’t work. And here’s why.

Suppose I write a memoir about my father and how he brought me up, including the bits of discipline that no child likes but which, in hindsight, you realize were necessary and appropriate. Then suppose that someone else writes a novel about my father which exaggerates those bits, adds some more, and generally makes my father look like an abusive swine — all while using his name, or the various nicknames I gave him in my memoirs. Then suppose that I object to this novel, and then suppose that the author of the novel replies, “The book isn’t against your father. It’s against bad parenting. In fact, the fictionalized father in my book reminds me of a really abusive parent I know down the block, or a nasty uncle I once knew who wasn’t actually a parent per se, but still, he was a grown-up and he did some bad things…”

Now, would anybody really expect me to just roll over and accept that answer? Would anyone really expect me to just ignore the fact that my narrative has been hijacked by someone else, and in a way that profoundly distorts the person I was describing?

The Golden Compass — the article’s up!

My article on the controversy over The Golden Compass and the His Dark Materials trilogy as a whole is now up at Christianity Today. The magazine has a fairly long lead time — at least compared to the websites and newspapers that I write for! — so this article does not take some of the more recent developments into account. I also “interviewed” Philip Pullman by e-mail for this story, but only a handful of quotes ended up in the article, so I might post some “deleted quotes” here in the next few days.

Newsbites: Bale! Disciple! Gods! Life! Mimzy!

Time for a few more little blurbs.

1. FilmStew.com has a wonderfully insane idea. If Christian Bale — who is currently one of six actors playing Bob Dylan in I’m Not There — really does play John Connor in the next Terminator movie, then perhaps the studio could cast all the other actors who have played John Connor and hire I’m Not There director Todd Haynes to oversee the whole thing. It’ll never happen, but still.

2. German director Robert Sigl is developing The 13th Disciple, a “Horror/Adventure” film about archaeologists in India who discover that Jesus had an “evil twin brother” who is now alive again, reincarnated as the head of a religious sect. Jesus himself will reportedly be “only in the background” of the story, and will not be an active character. Matt Page at the Bible Films Blog has rounded up several news sites and official movie sites on the subject.

3. The Hollywood Reporter says Ben Stiller is developing a TV pilot called Gods Behaving Badly, described as:

. . . a contemporary comedic tale set in London, where the gods of ancient Greece have been living together in a house since the 1660s. They still are running the world, fighting with one another, but they are dangerously bored and living in much reduced circumstances. Apollo has turned a Goldman Sachs market trader into a tree after she refused casual sex with him. Aphrodite runs a telephone sex service.

” ‘Gods Behaving Badly’ has a rare comedic collision of the mythic, the mundane and the emotionally real,” Red Hour partner Stuart Cornfeld said. “We are very excited about moving ahead with this.”

I like the Greco-Roman myths, so this could be kind of fun, but I don’t know that I trust Stiller or his company to milk the best humour out of this concept. For one thing, they’d better not make all the jokes about sex. That’s too easy, too obvious. It’s one thing for the characters to be bored and uninspired, but the writers should be a little more clever than that.

4. I love contrarian readings of popular films — such as Jonathan V. Last‘s argument that the Empire, rather than the Rebellion, was ultimately on the side of good in the the Star Wars movies — so I have to link to right-wing New York Post columnist Kyle Smith‘s recent analysis of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):

While watching the new colorization of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on DVD – this time they got it right; no longer do you get the feeling you’re watching a black-and-white film through stained glass – I thought: you know who would love this? Why, that visionary American innovator Henry F. Potter.

That’s right, Mr. Potter – the unsung hero of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the canny businessman who tried (and, alas, failed) to turn boring, repressed Bedford Falls – a town full of drunks, child beaters, vandals and racial and sexual harassers – into an exciting new destination nightspot called Pottersville. . . .

5. Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere notes that New Line Cinema’s “For Your Consideration” site — the site that invites members of the Academy to consider their films for the Oscars — is promoting The Golden Compass, Hairspray and… The Last Mimzy? That’s the lame children’s fantasy which happened to be the first film directed by the head of the studio in 17 years. In other words, it’s a true vanity project — and now, more so than ever.

Indiana Jones and the bizarre cameo rumour

You know those rumours about how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will deal with aliens and stuff? They just got a little weirder. If what the guy at MovieWeb says is true, then it looks like George Lucas sure wasn’t kidding when he said last year that this new film might be “a little too ‘connected’“.

Canadian box-office stats — November 25

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

American Gangster — CDN $10,290,000 — N.AM $115,774,000 — 8.9%
Bee Movie — CDN $9,240,000 — N.AM $112,069,000 — 8.2%
Beowulf — CDN $4,470,000 — N.AM $56,361,000 — 7.9%
No Country for Old Men — CDN $1,250,000 — N.AM $16,640,000 — 7.5%
Hitman — CDN $1,550,000 — N.AM $21,000,000 — 7.4%
Fred Claus — CDN $3,410,000 — N.AM $53,070,000 — 6.4%
The Mist — CDN $739,610 — N.AM $13,012,000 — 5.7%
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium — CDN $1,100,000 — N.AM $22,287,000 — 4.9%
Enchanted — CDN $2,370,000 — N.AM $50,048,000 — 4.7%
August Rush — CDN $628,529 — N.AM $13,330,000 — 4.7%

A couple of discrepancies: No Country for Old Men was #8 on the Canadian chart (it was #11 in North America as a whole), while This Christmas was #2 on the North American chart.

Hmmm, why did they pick these four faces?

I just saw this ad for an upcoming high-def James Bond marathon over at Facebook, and two things leapt out at me. One, there are 21 films in the “official” series produced by the Broccoli family, but this marathon will apparently feature only 19 of them — which two films were left out, and why? Two, there are 6 actors who have played Bond in these films, but only 4 of them are depicted in the art duplicated here — and while it’s no surprise that one-shot George Lazenby is missing, I am struck by the fact that Timothy Dalton, who made only two films, one of which didn’t do so well in North America, is included here, whereas Pierce Brosnan, whose four films outgrossed everybody else’s until Daniel Craig came along, has been left out of the picture. Is a re-evaluation of these actors and their respective places in the franchise in the works?