There’s been a lot of talk and some fear in Christian circles about the new atheist fantasy for kids. As usual, the critics agree we’ve made much ado about nothing.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve read the first two books of the trilogy. To be honest, I got bored at the end of the second book. The armored bears are the best thing in the story, and they get too little time.
N. T. Wright had a few words to say about the series. I don’t have exact quotes, but here’s how I remember the conversation. The story is anti-Christian, sure. And wholly unconvincing. Like the DaVinci code. At a certain point these vast conspiracies seem as ridiculous as, well, vast conspiracy theories.
God isn’t sick and insane and sadistic. The human race is.
It seems the film can’t escape the book’s implausible world. I grabbed a handful of quotes from MetaCritic.com. (Great site if you’ve never used it.) When I read between the lines of these reviews, I hear critics who are hungry for truth and beauty. Beauty without truth is empty. Beauty without truth is like the cheap gold plated watch that rubs silver with just a few months of wear. Or the gold plated compass that can’t find true north.
The movie simply delivers too many colorfuls for its own good, none of whom establish a true emotional identity, and thus it isn’t moving, it’s busy. Busy, busy, busy.
A tepid, jumbled Hollywood fable whose final message seems to amount to little more than “Follow your dreams,” or worse, “Stay tuned for the sequel.”
Looks magical, seethes with elusive profundities and makes remarkably little sense, though the murkiness makes perfect sense on a shallower level.
The Golden Compass is a snowbound mystical-whizbang kiddie ride that hovers somewhere between the loopy and the lugubrious.
One key missing element: the world in which this story takes place never feels unique.
Now I’m reminded of another movie that supposedly threatened all Christendom: The Da Vince Code. Poor Ron Howard sold himself for a cheap blockbuster built on similar nonsense. Dan Brown’s world couldn’t hold up on screen either, and critics like Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly were left puzzled, wondering things like, “The surprise, and disappointment, of The Da Vinci Code is how slipshod and hokey the religious detective story now seems.”
There’s an implied criticism of Christians there too. If we’re threatened by something so hokey, what does that say about the substance and strength of our story?
And this is why I don’t worry about these “threats” too much. Sure, I’m not going to take my daughter to see the film. But there are lots of other lame movies I don’t take her to see. God’s truth will always be more powerful than a lame movie. Which should be a word of caution to us, lest we expect miracles of the Holy Spirit to save our own lame movies. If Christians want to engage the culture, we need to do so with fear and trembling, with discipline and excellence, with devotion and passion and energy and skill. And we need to tell stories that reveal both God’s nature and human nature.
The more ways we can share these truths through beautiful words, stories, music, and images, the more powerful it will become.