THE GOLDEN COMPASS DVD
|Published: 31st March 2008 16:26|
The Golden Compass
Dakota Blue Richards stars as Lyra Belacqua in The Golden Compass
Releases 28 April
Forget Harry Potter, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is the true children's fantasy masterpiece of our time, and this is the first film in a hoped-for trilogy based on these gloriously inventive books. Yet despite sales of well over nine million copies, numerous awards, and successful theatre and radio adaptations, whether we'll ever see the next two still remains to be seen.
Yes, this first film may also be produced by New Line Cinema, the people who brought us Peter Jackson's glorious adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and so you would think that there was a good chance of commercial success. But that's forgetting the strange power of the hardcore Christian lobby in the United States - and that this film is the first in a series of books in which the main message is that God does not exist, and that organised religion is the single most malign influence on mankind.
We all know about the complaints from a religious contingent about Harry Potter promoting witchcraft, but the premise of Pullman's books is altogether more anti-religion. Pullman's book, despite the superficial similarities, is if anything the antithesis
of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's Narnia series' (which are also in the process of being adapted for the screen, following the success of 2005's The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe). Because where Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings and Aslan in the Narnia books are both more or less explicit Christ figures and the books themselves promote a Christian world view, Pullman's series concludes with the most explicit rejection of God and religion ever seen in a
mainstream children's bestseller.
In fact, so strong is the fear of the power that religious pressure puts on the success of movies that when a film version of His Dark Materials was first mooted back in 2002, following the success of The Fellowship of the Ring, rumours abounded that the religious content of the books would be excised for the movie versions. For fans of the books, such a move is utterly incomprehensible. After all, religious iconography abounds throughout - be it the (decidedly hard to describe, but essential) physical representations of human souls that accompany every character in everything they do through to the all-pervading power of the church.
Thankfully, however, Pullman's fans need not worry. Although it was always going to be possible to create a beautifully cinematic adventure story from Pullman's books - they do, after all, abound in fantastical imagery that could, if done well,
make for an astounding onscreen experience - the philosophical heart of the series has not been jettisoned in search of commercial viability. And, equally thankfully, the production design and artistic vision displayed onscreen - not to mention
the excellent casting, from Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman through to Sir Ian McKellen and Sam Elliott - more than does
justice to Pullman's work. This, despite being from the director who brought us About A Boy, is a masterful film.
However, despite being an adaptation of the first part of a series, whether we ever see the other two films, and Pullman's trilogy completed for the big screen, remains to be seen. Unlike most big-budget Hollywood fantasy films these days, the sequels are not guaranteed. Only if the American religious lobby can be thwarted will we ever see the next two films.
On the evidence of this one, those aren't going to be movies you want to miss.