Golden Compass, The (2007)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence.
Length: 113 minutes
Grade: B+BBB+=B+
Budget: $180 million
Box Office: $70 million U.S., $301 million Intl., $ million DVD

Directed and written by: Chris Weitz, who has produced a handful of things and previously wrote/directed About a Boy.
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Christopher Lee, Eva Green, Sam Elliott, and the voices of Kathy Bates and Ian McKellen.

Based on the first Phillip Pullman novel in the His Dark Materials series, this is the story of a group of people in an alternate universe where souls travel beside them as animals. There is a sinister plot to kidnap children because of the danger that they will be polluted by some mystical substance called dust, and a motley crew of outcasts is fighting to stop it.

Entertainment Value: B+
This is a lot to pack into a single movie, and even though I watched it and understood everything, it felt like I was missing stuff because so much was going on. But the sheer visual wonder of the other world is breathtaking. It’s a visual masterpiece, which really put the creation of Narnia to shame by contrast. Plus there are lots of fascinating characters. On the downside, it felt a bit derivative of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and even the slightly obscure but delightful Stardust. Still, a very enjoyable experience.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A, Violence C, Language A
Sex and language are non-concerns here, so the only real issue is violence. There are battle scenes involving people being killed (and their soul-animals disintegrating) and some frightening scenes with children being threatened or harmed. Also, an entire race of people are witches.
Significant Content: B
There is clear good and evil, although the evil may appear good at first. Dust is a substance that brings insight and wisdom. Some people are able to tell the truth with the use of a special device. Freedom and independence are good. Authoritative oppression of free will and independent thought are evil. Souls are not firmed up in their shape until later in life.

Artistic/Thought Value: B+
As I said, I thought the creation of a truly impressive visual world here was fabulous, and the world itself was very interesting. The unfortunate part was that several of the plot elements and particular scenes felt like Star Wars to me, and they didn’t have to. But the really interesting part of this movie was the basic element of the animal-souls. The idea of picturing your soul as some sort of intelligent animal and interacting with it seems like a very useful allegory to me. But here are the two concerns I suspect people will have. One, why should human souls look like animals? Two, why on earth did they make the colossally unsavvy decision to call them daemons? Pullman is an atheist and has said that he wrote this to be the anti-Narnia, and the books eventually culminate in liberation by killing God supposedly, but this movie doesn’t contain any of that stuff. The movie on its own is just good fantasy fiction.

Discussion Questions:
~Who in this world acts most like the magisterium in this movie? Is it religious authorities, academics, politicians, media makers, or someone else? Who does Pullman want you to think of in this connection?
~Does Pullman’s anti-Christian agenda show in this movie? Does the viewer have to accept his intended meaning for it? Does it matter more what an artist intends to say or what people get out of the work?
~In what says is dust like sin? In what ways is it like the presence of God?
~Discuss the scene where Kidman physically abuses her own soul. Are there people who abuse their soul like this?
~What animal would represent your soul, if you’re honest about it? Are you happy with this or would you like your soul to look like something else?
~How is the elithiometer like the Bible and how not?
~What similarities do you see here with Star Wars? What with Lord of the Rings?
~How should we view authority in this world, according to the Bible? How should we balance doing what others want (submission) with what we want (independence)?
Overall Grade: B+
Despite some flaws and a too-rapid plot, I enjoyed this movie and generally think American Christians were wrong for refusing to watch it.

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