"My Books Are About Killing God"
Thank God his movie is about a box office flop

Mark Alessio

"My books are about killing God"

...Golden Compass author, Philip Pullman, seen here

accepting the Freedom of the City of Oxford award.
(www.RemnantNewspaper.com)  It will take a “few extra drinks to be merry at New Line's Christmas party tomorrow night after ‘The Golden Compass’ resoundingly bombed during its opening weekend,” reports The New York Post (Dec. 9, 2007). The film, which cost $180-$200 million to produce (not including approximately $30-$40 million more in marketing costs) made only $26 million during its opening weekend:

The $26 million three-day estimate is in line with the opening of Fox's "Eragon'' a year ago. That adaptation of a kid fantasy book went on to gross $75 domestically and $175 foreign, netting Fox a modest profit on a reported budget of $100 million.

Unfortunately, "The Golden Compass'' cost twice what "Eragon'' did, and was designed to launch another fantasy franchise like "The Lord of the Rings,'' or at least "The Chronicles of Narnia.'' Its failure will imperil New Line honcho Robert Shaye – whose contract comes up for renewal next year – and perhaps the studio itself, which faces the prospect of being subsumed into sibling Warner Bros. after a long string of flops broken only by "Hairspray'' and the expensive "Rush Hour 3.'' Also facing a grim future after a succession of high-profile failures is frozen-faced Nicole Kidman, who now has the distinction of headlining two of the year's priciest bombs following "The Invasion.''

On its opening day, The Golden Compass raked in a paltry $8.8 million. According to Brook Barnes of The New York Times (Dec. 10, 2007), The Golden Compass’ disappointing ticket sales “complicate New Line’s hopes of churning out two sequels and deepen problems for the company, a boutique studio that is part of Time Warner,” particularly since New Line has recently produced a string of flops. According to Barnes, “The movie business is running into the 2007 home stretch with a serious limp,” and “ticket sales for the crucial holiday season, which began Nov. 2, are down 6 percent through Sunday compared with last year.”

New Line Cinema limited financial risk for The Golden Compass by selling off foreign distribution rights, taking advantage of tax incentives by filming in Britain and making the Royal Bank of Scotland a financing partner. According to Rolf Mittweg, New Line's president and chief operating officer of worldwide distribution and marketing, the studio could still “come out ahead” after taking into account foreign territory sales and revenue from the DVD and television markets.

The Golden Compass’ poor opening weekend box-office performance is highlighted when compared to that of The Chronicles of Narnia, which was released in 2005. Compass brought in $26 million. Narnia raked in $66 million during the three days.

Comment: Straddling the fence has proved disastrous for the people at New Line, who hoped that The Golden Compass would signal the start of a new movie franchise, another cash-cow along the lines of Harry Potter.

Before the film was released, the makers proclaimed that they were “watering down” the anti-Catholic elements which infuse the original book trilogy by Philip Pullman, who said, “My books are about killing God.” Even star Nicole Kidman went on record as saying, “I wouldn't be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.” Print ads for The Golden Compass even went so far as to include a glowing quotation from the now-infamous review released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This hedging, of course, angered the atheists, who wanted to see Pullman’s Catholic-hating venom reproduced in full cinematic splendor. Britain’s National Secular Society referred to the toning-down of Pullman’s anti-religion references as “a great shame.” Meanwhile, such protestations fell on deaf ears to both Catholics and Protestants, who were, understandably, not amenable to any amount of “watering-down” of a story whose ultimate aim is to “kill God” and paint Christianity as the essence of evil.

Since 2004’s The Passion of The Christ, film producers have been looking for that cinematic “magic bullet” – a blockbuster that will transcend genres and demographics. Mel Gibson took a chance then, gambling his own money on a film that was doomed to failure in advance by the pundits. Why was the Passion so ardently supported by the public?

The answer is simple. The film did not straddle any fences. Gibson’s vision of Our Lord’s Passion was not the stuff of Hallmark Television specials. It could have been more “viewer-friendly.” But, it wasn’t. And that is what grabbed the public’s attention. Even the regrettable removal of the so-called “blood curse” quotation from the final edit of the film could not tarnish the integrity of the work as a whole.

The Golden Compass had all the makings of a modern “blockbuster” – visual flights of fantasy and enough CGI (computer-generated imagery) to fill half a dozen flicks. It followed the “formula.” So, what happened?

Catholic League president Bill Donohue, speaking of the League’s boycott of The Golden Compass, remarked, “Our goal was to stop ‘The Golden Compass’ from meeting box office expectations, and we succeeded.” When one recalls how important Catholic and Protestant viewers were in the success of the Passion, it is easy to see how that same audience could bring about the reverse effect, and help a film to bomb. No, there can be no doubt that the dismissal of The Golden Compass by such a large potential audience helped precipitate its downfall. And where were all the hordes of active atheists, who should have been cramming the theaters in support of their literary messiah, Philip Pullman?

But, there is more to it. Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, in which he “kills God,” has been praised as the “anti-Narnia.” Apparently, the film-going public (both Christian and non-Christian), jaded beyond all expectations, is not all that interested in an “anti-Narnia” – especially not when the real Narnia is on tap. Like The Golden Compass, 2005’s The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe boasted visual flights of fancy and a barrage of CGI effects. But the Narnia film also had “heart,” for lack of a better term. As created by C.S. Lewis, Narnia is NOT a wonderland where everything is rosy. On the contrary, it is an unpredictable, often terrifying place, and the malevolence of his evil characters match the charm of his protagonists. The film captured all that, and the struggles undertaken therein, beautifully. And, like Mel Gibson with the Passion, the makers of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe did not straddle any fences. For example, it would have been easy for them to leave the character of Father Christmas (from the original book) out of the film, lest it offend certain religious or religion-hating groups. But, they didn’t. In fact, the scene featuring Father Christmas is pivotal.

Perhaps, the makers of The Golden Compass should have laid all their chips on the hardcore Pullman fans and the “enlightened” atheist contingent, instead of hedging.

At least now, Golden Compass screenwriter Chris Weitz can stop talking out of both sides of his mouth. Before the film opened, he told Variety, “People are essentially misreading and misrepresenting a book that is full of good values.” However, a November 21, 2007 Christian Post article also quotes him as saying, “Whereas ‘The Golden Compass’ had to be introduced to the public carefully, the religious themes in the second and third books can’t be minimized without destroying the spirit of these books.”

Looks like the plan was to lull the families in with a watered-down version of Pullman’s vision, then re-introduce the anti-Catholic elements later on. And, now, those sequels may never be made, as New Line Cinema reels from its “golden” bomb.



Archeological Find: “Church With No Name” Mystery Solved

UCLA & Getty Institute Study “Prohibited Book”

Want More News?

Mark Alessio's "Remnant News Watch" column appears in every issue of The Remnant

Subscribe to The Remnant! For more information, please click here.