New Line, the Hollywood studio that made Lord of the Rings, spent $150 million on filming Philip Pullman’s children fantasy novel, The Golden Compass. Now the question is: will religious controversy sink the film — or simply sell more tickets at the box office as the Da Vinci Code did?

After fantasy movies such as Legend (featuring Tom Cruise battling what appeared to be the Devil himself), Willow, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth all flopped in the 1980s, it seemed as if the fantasy as opposed to science fiction movie was as dead as the western and the musical. However something funny happened in the 2000s: the five Harry Potter movies became some of the biggest all-time box office champs, garnering $4.4 billion in worldwide receipts! (For some perspective: this is almost double the GDP of Malawi, the poorest country in the world!)

When the three Lord of the Rings movies made more than $1 billion dollars for New Line in 2001-3, it was official: fantasy was hot stuff at the box office! Perhaps after the horrifying events of 9/11 the world needed escapism again. Maybe in the new uncertain political climate they were ready for some simplistic tales of good vs. evil. For whatever reason, fantasy was big and Hollywood feverishly scrambled about looking for a literary property that could be the next Lord of the Rings.

Disney struck gold when The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on a children’s book by C.S. Lewis (a Tolkien contemporary), did unexpectedly well at the box office. Fantasy was definitely huge now! Thus it was a no-brainer that New Line, who had made the original Rings movies, would try to repeat their success by purchasing the movie rights to Philip Pullman’s various His Dark Materials books. After all, the series boasted global sales of over nine million . . .

The first book in the series, The Golden Compass (known as The Northern Lights in the UK), is a fantasy adventure set in alternative world where people’s souls manifest themselves as animals, talking bears fight wars, and Gyptians and witches co-exist. At the centre of the story is Lyra, a 12-year-old girl who starts out trying to rescue a friend who has been captured by a mysterious organization and winds up on an epic quest to save not only her world, but ours as well. So far, so good. It might as well be dubbed Narnia 2.

But things aren’t always as they seem. Problem is that this organization, which snatches children to surgically remove their souls, is considered by many to be a controversial depiction of the Catholic Church even though in the film script it is referred to only as a fictional place known as “the Magisterium.”

As one commentator explains it: “The subtext of the novels is fiercely critical of religion involving the overthrowing of God by one of his angels, who forms the tyrannical Republic Of Heaven, served on Earth by a barely disguised Catholic Church . . .”

Next: "Clergymen who kidnap children. Witches who aren't wicked. Even a pair of sexually ambiguous angels! If you thought Harry Potter was blasphemous, wait till you get a look at [this] trilogy!"




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