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Golden Compass update

14/11/2007. Contributed by Jessica Martin

Buy Golden Compass in the USA - or Buy Golden Compass in the UK

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Fantasy author Pullman says he always believed Nicole Kidman was right for the Mrs Coulter role, while Kidman - quite correctly - states, yes but: 'It's not so flattering when you think about it.'

The Golden Compass, New Line's $150m movie adaptation of the first volume in Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, stands accused of being both anti-Catholic and not anti-Catholic enough - though no one making either claim has actually seen it, says Devin Gordon in the December 3rd 2007 issue of Newsweek.

The Catholic League is urging families to boycott a film in which the word Catholic is never uttered.

The film is not, director Chris Weitz tells Newsweek, an attack on people of faith; like the books, it tells a story "that attempts to rescue the religious spirit from its perversion into political power." In any case, says Deborah Forte, the film's producer, "when you talk to young people who are passionate fans of the books, they only talk about the golden monkey, and the armored bear, and Lyra, and daemons." Of course, that hasn't stopped Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, from accusing the film of being "bait" to lure children to the novels, where they will be ensnared by Pullman's "pernicious atheist agenda," Gordon reports.

Pullman does, in fact, describe himself as an atheist, but his vocation is storytelling, and his only agenda, he says during an interview with Newsweek, is "to get you to turn the page." "To regard it as this Donohue man has said- that I'm a militant atheist, and my intention is to convert people-how the hell does he know that? Why don't we trust readers? Why don't we trust filmgoers?" Pullman sighed. "Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world." (Donohue tells Newsweek that he "has no respect for Pullman because of one word: honesty. He is a dishonest man. He didn't go after the Politburo, he went after the Catholic Church.")

Gordon, who visited the movie set last year, reports that the film is an honest, admirable adaptation of the story. Accusations of "heresy" abound. Buildings often resemble cathedrals. At one point, Nicole Kidman's character, the diabolical Mrs. Coulter, alludes to the story of original sin to justify a ghoulish purification rite that separates children from their daemons, a speaking, shape-shifting animal that settles into a permanent form as its human companion matures.

Pullman says he always envisioned Kidman playing Mrs. Coulter and wrote her a note saying so. "It's not so flattering when you think about it," Kidman says, laughing. Coulter is elegant, persuasive and chilling, which is how a lot of people find Kidman's acting. She addressed the controversy surrounding the film. "The story is more about authority now, rather than religion, which was important to me. I've been raised as a strong Catholic, and my grandmother would not be happy, or my dad for that matter, if we'd followed that part of the book."

Gordon also reports on the late decision to insert Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear. "I lost that one," Weitz says, though, he adds, "if you're going to have anyone recast in your movie, you're happy it's Ian McKellen."

Originally, Weitz gave the part to a British stage actor named Nonso Anozie. "I never thought the guy sounded like Iorek," says Toby Emmerich, New Line's president of production. "You want to support your director, so we said OK. But I just never stopped thinking that this guy didn't sound right." McKellen took over this past spring. "That's probably a function of 'Lord of the Rings' being such a watershed experience for everybody here," Emmerich says. "It's just in our DNA."

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