The golden Compass film

Why was the Golden Compass film series canceled?

The Golden Compass film series is a movie adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s bestselling series His Dark Materials,  one of the most popular series among children. Despite having such a huge fanbase the first movie of what was supposed to be a multimillionaire project didn’t meet the expectations. The Golden Compass flopped and the sequels were canceled, but why? was the movie that bad? or there was something else? What if I told you this movie was boycotted and this meant in one way or another that The Golden Compass film sequels were never filmed?

The Golden Compass box office numbers

Let’s take a look at The Golden Compass box office numbers first, the movie had a budget of $180 million, an amount that is significantly higher than most of the big fantasy productions. Most of the fantasy movie adaptations have a budget that is usually less than $150 million, that is the case of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ($125 million), Percy Jackson: Lightning Thief ($95 million) or The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring ($93 million).

Despite the huge budget of the film, the Golden Compass box officed $372 million. Yes, it recouped its production costs but such numbers were way far from the expectations. The film was produced by New Line Producers, a production company that had just had a huge success producing The Lord of The Rings directed by Peter Jackson.

The Golden Compass film cast

  • Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra Belacqua.
  • Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Coulter.
  • Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel.
  • Sam Elliott as Lee Scoresby.
  • Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala.
  • Clare Higgins as Ma Costa.
  • Charlie Rowe as Billy Costa.
  • Christopher Lee as the Magisterium’s first high councilor.
  • Tom Courtenay as Farder Coram.
  • Derek Jacobi as the Magisterial emissary.
  • Simon McBurney as Fra Pavel, a Magisterial agent.
  • Jack Shepherd as master of Jordan College.
  • Magda Szubanski as Mrs. Lonsdale.
  • Edward de Souza as the Magisterium’s second high councilor.
  • Paul Antony-Barber as Bolvangar Doctor.
  • Jason Watkins as Bolvangar Official.
  • Jody Halse as Bolvangar Orderly.
  • Hattie Morahan as Sister Clara.

So many good stars here isn’t it? Why wasn’t the Golden Compass a success? let’s take a look at the critics.

The Golden Compass film reviews

Here are the scores of The golden Compass Film at two of the most popular  review-aggregation websites for film and television:

Metacritic Score: 51.

Rottentomatoes Score: 42.

Not the best score to be honest, the critics’ consensus in Rottentomatoes says the following

Without the bite or the controversy of the source material, The Golden Compass is reduced to impressive visuals overcompensating for lax storytelling

We will get to the controversy later. Let’s focus on the rest, the visuals were actually pretty good in fact, but the film didn’t follow the original source, lots of scenes were not included in the film or were markedly changed.

These changes were obviously not well received by the fans of the books, but they were not the only one weren’t fond of the movie… there was some controversy.

The Golden Compass controversy

Let’s get back to the books, the world of His Dark Materials is dominated by the Magisterium, a powerful church might resemble too much to the Catholic Church. The Magisterium is a malevolent abusive organization that will not hesitate to resort to torture or even murder.

As you might have realized,  because of this resemblance to such a fictional evil organization some Catholic groups were not fond of Phillip Pullman’s story. In fact, the novelist has been accused several times about using his most notorious work, His Dark Materials, as a way to criticize religion and especially Catholicism.

The producers of the movie, being aware of this issue, tried to soften this version of the Church as well as not focusing as much on religion (despite the fact that both were key themes of the novels).

The director, Chris Weitz, said that the Magisterium portrayed in the film would represent all dogmatic organizations. Such decisions were not well received neither by the fans of the novels or anticensorship groups, but New Line Cinema wanted to make sure their adaptation would move away as much as possible from having the antireligious tone that His Dark Materials novels have.

Was this enough? No.

The Catholic League called for a boycott of the Golden Compass

Despite the attempts of the producers and the director to soften the religious theme of the adaptation the Catholic League called for a boycott.

The League president acknowledged that the Golden Compass film adaptation was not so focused on religion, and it was true,  both religion and God (“the Authority” in the books) were not be referenced directly during the film. Even so, he said the film would encourage children to read the novels promoving so atheism for children.

Here you have an excerpt of the call for a boycott:

The Catholic League is calling for a boycott of “The Golden Compass”; the movie opens December 7. It is based on the first book of a trilogy titled, His Dark Materials.

The author of this children’s fantasy is Philip Pullman, a noted English atheist. It is his objective to bash Catholicism and promote atheism. To kids. “The Golden Compass” is a film version of the book by that name, and it is being toned down so that Catholics, as well as Protestants, are not enraged.

The second book of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, is more overt in its hatred of Catholicism than the first book, and the third entry, The Amber Spyglass, is even more blatant. Because “The Golden Compass” is based on the least offensive of the three books, and because it is being further watered down for the big screen, some might wonder why a boycott is warranted.

The Catholic League wants Christians to boycott this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.

We are launching a major educational campaign designed to alert the public to Pullman’s game plan. To that end, we have prepared a booklet, “The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked.” It contains snippets of what reviewers have said about the film and the books, as well as revealing comments made by Pullman himself; it also contains a synopsis of the trilogy. In short, the booklet is not what we are saying about Pullman’s work—it is what he and others have said about it.

You can see the full document here.

Was the boycott effective? is this the reason there are not The Golden Compass film sequels?

According to New Line Cinema, the sequels had been placed on hold because of financial concerns during the global recession (this was in 2008). However, the actor Sam Eliott ( Lee Scoresby  in the movie) stated the following:

 The Catholic Church … lambasted them, and I think it scared New Line off.

On the other side, Philip Pullman said that the sequels would not be made due to the first film’s disappointing sales in the United States.

We can’t know how many people didn’t go to the theatres to watch the Golden Compass because of this call for a boycott. Even so, in a sort of way, the boycott was effective: he fact that New  Line Cinema decided to change the plot and soften the religious theme of His Dark Materials made it less appealing for the fans, also, given that the subsequent books are even more driven into religion this might have made New Line Cinema think it was financially too risky.

Hope you found this article interesting. Did you watch The Golden Compass? do you think The Golden Compass film sequels should have been filmed?

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