Thursday, November 22, 2007

Rosin Chronicles Golden Compass Transformation

As Christians across the USA gear up for a campaign against the atheism of The Golden Compass, SWNID urges gentle readers first to read the backgrounder on the movie's production by the esteemed journalist of American religion Hannah Rosin in this month's Atlantic (full access requires subscription, well worth the money in our SWNIDish opinion).

Rosin notes that market concerns motivated the movie's producers from the beginning to reduce, modulate and even obliterate the overt anti-theistic themes of the blockbuster fantasy books. Author Philip Pullman, who is unrepentant about his aggressive atheism, cooperated in the corruption in order to get the books to the silver screen (and presumably to get his royalty checks deposited).

The result, says Rosin, is the usual Hollywood religious mish-mosh: a bland, quasi-Buddhism akin to Star Wars that will probably offend few. In fact, Rosin judges that the movie that will mostly anger only those who liked the books' original message but will probably flummox wider audiences who try to understand it beyond its flashy special effects.

More broadly, we scold our Christian siblings for their obsession, positively and negatively, with media messages. For years, we've protested the messages that the media gives our impressionable minds, imagining a better world in which movies and television reinforced positive values and even the Christian good news.

Then we got The Passion of the Christ and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

And massive revival broke out.

No, wait: it didn't.

We therefore opine that media messages, with us or against us, have relatively less impact than we sometimes hope or fear. Not to deny the effect that worldviews embedded in entertainment and news reporting have on the consciousness of many, we nevertheless conclude that the media largely gives people what they insist they want and help them think what they think already.

In the case of The Golden Compass, what many people want is spectacular fantasy, but what only about 14% wants is anti-theism. So Hollywood is giving the former while minimizing the latter. And we expect a religious impact about equivalent to what we got from Lord of the Rings.


patrick said...

While I agree mostly with your observation here my real concern is that this cinematic introduction to Philip Pullman's work may draw unsuspecting parents to his books. I don't think this necessarily reflects "obsession" with media messages, but I do think it's important for concerned parents to be aware of this background information so they can make informed decisions.

Bryan D said...

. . . just like millons of mindless readers were drawn into the occult by reading Harry Potter.

An interesting observation on this release is that Rowan Williams has come out very oppenly in support of the films (and the books). Hi argument wsas basically anything that makes people start thinking about God is actually a good thing, no matter what perspective it is coming from.

Pullman and Williams actually did an interview together on the subect which, if I could find it, would doffer some fruitful insights.


Bryan D said...

Ah ha!


Chris said...

I don't think an organized boycott of this movie is called for (or would work). However, parents should know the point of view of the books before letting their children read them or see the movie.

To me, the movie looks like a sort of twisted Narnia. And I'm not just saying that based on what Christian reviewers are saying. That's the impression I get from the ads I've seen and the trailer.

And unlike, Harry Potter and even LOTR where the movies are somewhat darker than the books, here the books are apparently much darker than the movies.

I may let my kids read the books at some point if they want to, but only if we can have significant conversations about the content and the authors point of view.

Helen Ann said...

I read the series years ago - not knowing the author's intent...It became clear by the end, though. I agree that folks should be aware of his views. I also agree that a boycott would do little except draw more attention to the movie and increase ticket sales.

My thoughts on the books are here for any interested parties:

BTW, Bryan...I read the Harry Potter series. I am not mindless and I was not drawn into the occult. :)

Matt Coulter said...

First I saw the teaser... I thought "Cool, a huge bear with body armor? I'z gotsta see that." Then I heard about the books (dmmm, dmmm, dmmm). My first thought was not to boycott the film, but let it play out like other films and just see how people respond to it.

I have been a bit impressed lately with the judgement of our movie going communities and how they respond to decent films as opposed to trash. But to have the concern for a level of propaganda or brainwashing has long been seen as nonexistant in the movie industry.

Movies do not guide us, they represent us (not universally of course). They are merely art forms that express ideas we are already familiar with at some level. We might be surprised by the course of events in a film but we are not surprised by the content which is typically found in the religeous and politcal dialogs throughout America both on the air and in private discussions.

Foremost I am a Christian. That seems to have the power to convict me to maintain a sure foundation no matter what movie content I encounter. A testament to the living Christ is involved there I believe. But I have not met someone that has ever been convicted through a film that has a hidden or downplayed meaning. I have not seen a rise in homosexuality because of the release of Brokeback Mountain. I have not even met converts to liberalism that say "It all began when I saw Micheal Moore's (insert biased film title here)". I have not met anyone that is still trying to "Pay It Forward".

So, I have watch Star Wars (ANH) and its accessory films many times since I was 3 years old. I even read all of the books still written today... yet I am not a Buddist or believer in a thing called the Force.

As a kid I watched Escape from Witch Mountain and The Wizard of Oz yet I do not believe in Witches or Fairies.

I have enjoyed the Superman films (sadly even the one with Richard Pryor). However I believe it is more likely that a planet named Pluto exists than a planet named Krypton. And I do not expect to find a fortress of solitude next to Santa's workshop.

The only real drawback to all of the films I have watched is that they are hours I could have spent doing better things with my life. Therein lies the worst negative effect a film can have on a person... captivity from the needs of the world (but that truth is based on my world view).

Hopefully we teach our children the simple lesson that all stimulation is to be observed and weighed and not just accepted.

Oh, I almost forgot one... I also watched The Naked Gun, yet I still believe O.J. did it.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Very tasty, Matt.

Chris said...


No, books and movies will not by themselves change someones religious or philisophical convictions. However, they can and do have an influence.

I happen to know someone whose change from (nominal) Christianity to neo-paganism was helped along by certain literature and yes, Star Wars. This person preferred the dualism of "the Force" to accountability to a personal God. And there are more people like that out there than you would think.

I also used to know someone who believed the moon landings were fake based on a movie.