Yesterday, my wife and I took advantage of school being canceled, in spite of relative benign weather in Lawrence, to go see the Golden Compass. We like this sort of fantasy and our interest was piqued because of the Catholic League's claim that the film is anti Catholic. The League claims that Catholics and other Christians should avoid the film because it it "bait" which might cause unsuspecting parents to buy the books by Phillip Pullman upon which the movie is based.
The League accuses Pullman of being a militant atheist with the goal or denigrating Christianity, especially Catholicism and the League claims that the film sanitizes much of the anti Catholic rhetoric in the book. Further, the League dismisses the claims Pullman and others associated with the film that the film is benign. You can download the League's report here.
I have not read the books, so can't comment on that particular controversy except to say that I have never been impressed with arguments that one should avoid such and such work simply because the author's theology, or lack of it, is a problem. Arguments, be they couched in fiction or not, have to stand on their own merits.
Harm to kids? I think not. Perhaps the League's leaders did not go through any sort of questioning of their faith as a teenager...but from what I remember and experienced with my kids-questioning of all sorts is part of being a teen.
Now to the movie. The movie was lots of fun. Mrs Coulter (Nichole Kidman) was the ultimate female villain; the Magisterium appropriately sinister, the good guys appropriately good. So yes, the Golden Compass's characters are very one dimensional from an adult perspective. However, what kid or adult can possibly resist having their "soul" taking the form of an animal daemon? What kid or adult can resist a film that promotes free thinking? OK... don't answer that.
Given the 'controversy' about the film, my antennae were all a quiver for anti Christian references. But aside from the the Magisterium the only swipe at Christianity was a comment Nichole Kidman makes to the young heroine, Lyra to the effect that many of our problems stem from a couple of our ancestors who did not obey authority. This could be a reference to the Fall. But that doesn't disturb me since I have strong Pelagian sympathies, as you might suspect.
The movie's pacing was a bit frenetic and choppy giving the impression that a lot was cut out..which it probably was. But I don't think the director and screen writers did as good a job as other attempts to condense large fantasy books to a movie; certainly the editing is not up to the quality of the Harry Potter films. The special effects are generally good and not too obtrusive. I really liked the daemons which by the way ranged from a snow leopard to a praying mantis to a ferret.
Oh, I suspect now we will buy the books if only to see what the League's fuss is all about. Given the overtly Christian themes of some other fantasy writing-C.S. Lewis comes to mind here-fantasy from an overtly atheist perspective might be refreshing.
The movie has an official web site of course ,and just out of curiosity I visited it and had fun with the choose your daemon game which asks you some basic personality questions and purports to match you with your daemon. Mine is below. Not sure I agree with the choice but it is appropriate for an evolutionist don't you think? At least I didn't get the praying mantis.