BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 09:06 GMT
Compass points: Catholic and atheist
Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass
The film stars Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua

Fantasy film The Golden Compass, adapted from the first of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books, opens in the UK on Friday.

The novel, known as The Northern Lights in the UK, is in part a critique of organised religion, featuring a corrupt and controlling body known as the Magisterium.

The Catholic League in the US has advised families to stay away from the film, and critics have accused the author of "candy-coated atheism."

Here, a Catholic and an atheist film reviewer give their views.


I didn't find The Golden Compass offensive at all.

The Magisterium comes in early on, but is only there for a few minutes.

We're not really told what they do, just that they control things for the sake of it. This just isn't what the Catholic Church is about, so it was too removed from reality for anyone to take offence.

Of course it's to do with the church, but it's so bowdlerised, it's such a cliche of the "evil church," that it just didn't seem relevant really.

The main message was so convoluted, there was no serious atheistic content, and it didn't seem obvious that they [the Magisterium] were religious in a way that I understand it.

Armoured polar bears fight in The Golden Compass
I'd be far more offended if I was a polar bear
Clearly, the Magisterium is meant to represent the Catholic church, but I think the Catholic League in America are really overstepping the mark.

There's no need to call for any boycott of it.

The whole thing is about polar bears - it's nothing to do with the Magisterium.

I'd be far more offended if I was a polar bear. The polar bears are ludicrously portrayed - I don't empathise with them at all.


If you haven't read the books, you might be satisfied with the fact that there's plenty of retro-futuristic design; that there are great creatures like the polar bear Iorek; and you might be captivated by the idea of Lyra's journey.

But the problem is that there is so much missing from what is basically a corporate product that you're going to be very disappointed if you have read the books.

I don't think it's true that they've watered down the atheism - although the last three chapters, where they talk explicitly about the concept of Original Sin, are missing.

They were removed after previews, but not because of the religious content - it was because it was felt that after the big battle at the end, it was something of an anti-climax for the film to go on from there.

My feeling is that there are hints of what will go on to be developed much more clearly in [the second part] The Subtle Knife, but not enough for card-carrying atheists like me.

Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass
I found that the whole thing was completely bereft of magic
I would obviously have liked to have more atheism.

The problem is that everything is present and correct, but it's present and correct in a very truncated form.

The film is one hour 50 minutes long, which is very short for a contemporary film. It needed to be about two and a half hours for the amount of stuff that was in the book.

I think the point is that it is now a kids' movie - but it is not a kids' book.

I found that the whole thing was completely bereft of magic.

They're going to have to sharpen up their act for the second film.

There's a decision to be made: Are they going to go for a watered-down children's version of the books, or are they going to use this as a loss leader to get people in to see the really serious anti-religious stuff that develops in The Subtle Knife?

Obviously I'm hoping for the latter, but given the market pressures in America I think that won't happen.

The critics were talking on BBC World Service's On Screen programme.

Stars at Golden Compass premiere
28 Nov 07 |  Entertainment
Compass maker fears 'jaded' fans
22 May 07 |  Entertainment

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific