Boring Compass: A Movie Review

Well, I finally saw The Golden Compass Friday. I was asked by several concerned Catholic and pro-life organizations to review the film, which I did with another pro-life activist (a Calvinist preacher). It tries to whitewash the books, which are the bigger danger.

As far as anti-Christian content, it wasn't completely stripped from the film. But it was subtle. I picked up the following:

– Polar bear smashes an Iconostasis.
– The use of the word "Magisterium" for the bad guys.
– The Magisterium's agents use the title "Fra" and wear something similar to Roman collars.
– The Magisterium's headquarters is very similar in its architectural design to St. Peter's Basilica and the Piazza San Pietro.
– The song about Lyra at the end of the movie refers to her being "full of grace".

But forget the morally objectionable content, the film was just bad art. Worse, it was boring. That's always the biggest killer for a movie in the epic fantasy genre marketed toward children.

The Calvinist preacher who came with me, quite literally, fell asleep after the first half hour. I had to wake him up for the polar bear fight scene (the only exciting sequence in the movie, and it was too short as well as anti-climatic in its ending). The theatre was practically empty, and a group of teens walked out about halfway through to murmurs of "boring" and "this sucks".

I can understand why all the secular critics are panning it.

The movie did for a large part strip Pullman of his atheism and anti-Christian themes. And although the polar bear smashing an Iconostasis would normally prove offensive to Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, by this point in the film nobody seemed to be paying attention to this rare tidbit of action.

Regardless, in stripping the screenplay of Pullman's atheism and anti-Christian ideology, the movie just doesn't hold together — especially when one is forced to endure it for two hours. Characters are poorly developed, with new characters constantly being introduced before you get to know the old ones. The direction of the movie is unfocused, and the plot is unclear. And yes, the movie does cut out before the last three chapters in the book.

New Line would have been better off going with a mid-priced movie faithful to the books and geared toward adults, rather than try and push this into another block-buster a la Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I would not be surprised if they failed to recover their $200million investment, especially with Will Smith's I am Legend coming out next month.

As for fans of James Bond, Daniel Craig's appearances in the film amount to little more than a cameo. So I wouldn't recommend it for the actors unless you're a fan of Nicole Kidman (whose performance actually wasn't all that bad.)

Shout out to my friends who happen to be fans of Pullman's books: I'm not gonna tell you to not see the movie, but it's as ideologically incoherent and watered down from Pullman's books as the major movie critics claim. So yeah, your guy sold out.

Anyway, as a Catholic I give it zero stars out of five. The movie remains morally offensive. As a fine arts major and fan of the epic fantasy genre, I give it one star out of five. Mainly for the polar bear fight scene, Kidman's acting and some of the breathtaking landscape. But the movie for the most part just doesn't hold together.

I can see why New Line avoided having this movie go head-to-head with Harry Potter this past summer. In fact, I can see why New Line is avoiding any direct comparison between Golden Compass and Harry Potter.

[This review courtesy of the Catholic Fire blog.]

Pete Vere


Pete Vere is a canon lawyer, author, and Byzantine Catholic from Northern Ontario, Canada. He and his wife Sonya have six children. In his few spare moments, when he is not cooking or camping with his family, he enjoys hunting, reading, video games and scotch.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    Huh?  Why no mention of the young actress at all?  Didn't she do a good job?  I hate those polar bears – they scare me.  Is this movie scary for kids?  They look crazy.  Is it because of global warming?  And why in the world would any sane person give a 'shout out' to atheists. I am sure God doubts the person's sanity.  Remember who your Creator.  This is not helpful at all..

  • Guest

    I'm glad to hear that this movie is boring.  I hope it continues to get poor reviews.  Let's pray that it doesn't succeed in drawing kids to the books.

  • Guest

    I thought it was very helpful and the writer sounded very sane and why shouldn't a Christian be friends with an Athiest?

    They are people (and more importantly, Gods children) too!

    Thanks for the great review!!Laughing



  • Guest

    I give the reviewer one star out of five for the line: "Anyway, as a Catholic I give it zero stars out of five." I would have given Mr. Vere two stars if he just let the Calvinist preacher sleep.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    I think that after all the folderol that preceeded the film’s opening, and exposed all the worst points about it, and Pullman, especially as promotional propaganda for his books, have been made clear – if anyone just reads – this review was adequate. I know that a month ago my nine-year-old grandson was already scorning this movie, however he got his information.

    This is all satisfactory for my own purposes.

    It could be that my daughter has been talking down the movie, which means that even if her kids’ schools call this ‘Dark’ trilogy any kind of required reading, she will nix it even if they threaten to give ‘F’s to her kids.

    They’ve threatened so before, but backed down. My daughter is one parent who not only abides, generally cooperates and pays attention, but is not to be challenged with HER kids. (And when her kids are wrong, she comes down on them like a ton of bricks; what teacher wouldn’t delight in a classroom led by such parents?) About her kids, she’s sort of a one-parent PTA and shadow school board. Proof that a parent who stands and holds can have great influence, I believe that the educators she and her kids are involved with admire her power for her kids. And, she manages this considering herself an ‘agnostic’ – whatever that means in her case – imagine if she were on fire with Christ! Or, maybe she is and doesn’t even know – her Mom was a most potent Catholic Christian, expressive as she was pious, and her (our) daughter just may be imitating how her Mom would have entered the lists. (NOT to mention that Mom has heaven’s ears so very directly.)

    Of any film, book, TV show, etc. – it is up to parents to be ‘primary’ in all aspects.

    (Interesting, too: my Helena, her husband, Greg, and her twelve-year-old Rachel and nine-year-old Erik are all thinking that they need two more kids around. What a delight to an old Grandpa’s ears! Their own or adopted, it is glorious music [Gregorian chant].)

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …