I’ve been meaning to read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series for a while. But, I just haven’t found the time. I even bought the first book in anticipation of the movie, but didn’t get it read before the movie came out. Instead of waiting until I got to it, Lisa and I went to see the movie adaptation this past weekend.
First, some comments on the movie itself. I liked it. It wasn’t perfect. My main problem with it was the pacing. I felt that there was too much action, from the point of view of getting me to care for the characters. I think I was meant to be much more emotionally involved in the characters than I had the time to do. For example, the scene when Lyra tells Yorik the bear how much he means to her, well, I didn’t get the feeling that there was any reason for her to feel so strongly for the bear. I think it is likely that, in the book, the relationship between the two characters is much more developed, but in the movie, it was just too fast paced for that relationship to be developed. So, I think they intended for me to be more involved with the characters than I was.
But, the story was very cool; I really enjoyed the world Pullman created. And the effects were done well. I didn’t like the flying witches in that their flight didn’t fit in quite as well as some of the other special effects. And when Lyra is riding on Yorik: I don’t think CGI guys have that kind of thing down yet. Animating one character being thrown about by another must be very hard (Legolas on the back of the troll was the worst CGI in The Fellowship of the Ring). Despite thse short comings, though, I enjoyed it.
Then, there is the whole controversy about the anti-religiousness of the movie. I understand that the anti-Church tone of the book was toned down for the movie, and I think that it is not too overpowering in the movie. As Lisa pointed out, the movie feels less anti-religion and more anti-authority, anti-totalitarianist, anti-fascist. The point of the movie, and I would assume, the book, is that people must think for themselves. The Magesterium (which, I read somewhere, is what the educational wing of the Catholic Church is actually called) is a totalitarian organization, telling people how to live, how to behave, how to think. Lyra represents those who would think for themselves.
In this light, I really don’t understand all the protests. I guess people feel threatened by what they perceive to be an attack on their religion. However, I have to be honest: if this movie causes someone to doubt their faith, to question their beliefs, I can’t believe they were very strong in the first place. If parents are afraid that this movie and the books will corrupt their children, will send them an anti-religion message, then the years of brainwashing they have already experienced just didn’t sink in enough. If years of hearing the same message from their church, pastors and priests, and parents is overthrown so easily, then maybe the message wasn’t so strongly accepted in the first place.
I think the message of the movie is exactly the kind of thing every child should hear. They should think for themselves. If, after watching the movie, kids think about their beliefs and why they hold them, and even if they come out of the experience with even more conviction for their beliefs, that is a good thing. Kids should be encouraged to think for themselves, to question everything around them, to discover the world on their own. And if a movie like The Golden Compass can contribute to such behavior, then there should be more such movies.