MAXWELL: NEEDLING A ‘COMPASS’
12/13/2007 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
A crusade against ‘The Golden Compass’ on the grounds that it is ‘selling atheism to kids’ misses the point that the film epic is simple Hollywood entertainment.

Any time William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, attacks art or entertainment, I always check out the offending product for myself, which is one reason I saw The Golden Compass.
Donohue and his minions have instructed Catholics and anyone else willing to listen to boycott the $150-million movie, starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Sam Elliott and introducing Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua, the 12-year-old heroine.
Although Donohue has not seen The Golden Compass, he argues that it attacks the Catholic Church. The film is based on Philip Pullman’s novel of the same name. Written for young adults, it is part of a trilogy called His Dark Materials, a title lifted from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Pullman, a Brit and an avowed atheist, acknowledges that the trilogy is an argument against organized religion. Together, the works debunk the “Garden of Eden” tale, the notion of the “fall” and the curse of “original sin.” Without the “fall” and “original sin,” God is, alas, nothing more than a man-made bully, a la the Great Oz.
Donohue is not dissuaded that these themes, central to the books, are not prominent in the film: “This is pernicious. This is selling atheism to kids, and it’s doing it in a backdoor fashion. … The protest is not because the movie is going to be so shocking. The protest is this: It comes out at Christmastime, it’s all done deliberately, (and) it’s all calculated. If unsuspecting Christian parents bring their kids to see this movie, they might find it not troubling. All the more reason then they may want to buy the trilogy for their kids as a Christmas gift.”
Besides Donohue’s fear of anyone or anything challenging organized piety, the major problem with his crusade is that he does not understand, or does not care, that the epic adventure on the screen is pure Hollywood entertainment.
It lacks the purposeful, brooding religiosity and philosophical angst of the trilogy. But because his role is to protect the Catholic Church’s authority, Donohue is contemptuous of free thought and, therefore, ignores these omissions in the film.
As a tableau of interesting humans and animals, called daemons, and fantastic contraptions that fly, the film shows Lyra, a ward of Jordan College, valiantly struggling to remain an independent thinker while searching for other children whom the dreaded Magisterium, the ruling body, has imprisoned to control their thinking. She relies on her golden compass to always reveal the truth.
And, then we have “Dust,” the mysterious element at the core of existence. But because The Golden Compass is entertainment, it avoids a deep parsing of “Dust” and other such symbols.
Unlike the Catholic League, the filmmakers do not have a religion portfolio. The studio wants to make money and does not want to anger the paying public with blatant controversy during the Christmas season.
In the Christian-leaning United States, The Golden Compass, rated PG-13, pulled in an estimated $26.1-million during opening week, far below expectations. Conversely, in more secular Europe and elsewhere, it grossed $55-million. Perhaps Donohue, who also tried to scare people away from The Da Vinci Code, persuaded significant numbers of Americans to shun The Golden Compass. I do not know.
At any rate, wanting to know what a young adult thought of the film, I read Taylor Glogowski’s review in the St. Petersburg Times’ Xpress section. She is a 16-year-old junior at Land O’Lakes High School.
I was pleasantly surprised that Taylor focuses on the filmic merits of the work. She does not mine for evidence of attacks against God and religion, Catholic or otherwise.
“The movie has gotten a lot of publicity lately, but with the controversies aside, the only way to describe the movie is that it is horribly disorganized and pointless,” she writes.
And the violence: “There is a lot of violence – not only fights between humans but fights between animals as well. One scene shows two polar bears in an extremely brutal fight.”
Would she recommend The Golden Compass? “I would not recommend it to any of my friends and would advise parents to not bring young children to see this movie without seeing it themselves first.”
Clearly, Taylor Glogowski is the kind of talented girl whom Donohue fears: Like Lyra Belacqua in the film, she thinks for herself and expresses her ideas with clarity and passion.