A Golden Compass boycott?

My daughter works at our small town movie theater, and she’s got the inside scoop: apparently the locals are boycotting The Golden Compass. Attendance is down, almost the only people going are university students, the owner has had calls from people in the community complaining about the movie. Darn. I guess the theater should have booked Mel Gibson’s Passion again — that thing hung around forever here, and had loads of people showing up every night.

Ah, rural America.


  1. MikeM says

    From what I can gather, the main objection is that it just isn’t very good. It was #1 at the box-office over the weekend, to mostly negative reviews.

    So I think this is just a rumor.

  2. Nathan Parker says

    A local poll (Memphis, TN) showed about 60% of the population would refuse to see it solely because the story was written by an atheist.

    Ebert gave the movie a very good review, but Rotten Tomatoes has a more unfavorable opinion.

  3. pradeep says

    I saw the movie on Friday night and it has a modicum showing of people. About 75% of the seats were filled, but I doubt this will be a blockbuster like the Harry Potter series. I think Pullman’s books are more popular in the UK than in the United States.

    Even if the other two books are not made into movies, this one movie has spurred my imagination enough to want to read the entire series.

    The main problem was that even though it was interesting, it did not quite have the soul of the book. A common criticism, I know, but it could have been done better. Some of the critical actors were wasted and the story moved along like a Cliff Notes version of the book.

    Hopefully “The Subtle Knife” will be better as a movie, but with the way the fundies have campaigned to have this movie banned, you can only imagine the heat the next movies get as it reveals the even more subversive elements of the story.

  4. Moses says

    Well, the reviews have been less than kind. Hell, the Harry Potter movies had better reviews and they were, frankly, not that good. So I don’t think we’re going to see it. Especially as I’m just not that thrilled in funding Hollywood’s Nicole Kidman delusions; 11 turkeys is just too much.

  5. brightmoon says

    ive heard fundies tell me that they wouldnt read the book or see the movie …its their loss, its a pretty good story bought it for my son when he was about 13

  6. says

    Are you sure it’s a boycott PZ?

    As a scientist, you really should consider other hypotheses, such as the possibility of other events competing for the yokels’ attention.

    Have you checked to see if perhaps there’s a tractor pull or NASCAR rally in town?

  7. Colugo says

    According to Box Office Mojo, Golden Compass didn’t even break 26 million for the US, compared with Narnia’s take of over $65 m two years ago. Narnia and Compass had similar production budgets – $180 million.

    They’re already gloating: LifeSite: ‘”Boycott Worked”: Compass Flops’

    “”All we heard from the chattering class over the past few weeks was that our boycott would have the reverse effect of enticing more people to see the film,” said Donohue.

    Donohue concluded: “Let this be a lesson to militant atheists like Pullman: keep your hollow beliefs to yourself. And ease up on demonizing Catholicism-no other religion has done more to promote human rights, science and goodwill.””

    What do you suppose Donohue would have thought about someone saying about The Passion of the Christ or Narnia “keep your hollow beliefs to yourself”?

    Series of Unfortunate Events and Eragon, both box office disappointments, failed to kick-start movie franchises.

  8. says

    I was astonished at how much better the third Harry Potter movie was than the first — so there’s still hope, quality-wise!

    Posted by: Blake Stacey

    That’s because the third film was directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

  9. says

    is it that they a boycotting it? Or are they just not interested?

    I wasn’t interested in seeing Passion…and so I didnt see it. I saw narnia because it looked like fun. It was.

  10. says

    Well, darn. I read the Ebert review and got all excited, and now it looks like the rest aren’t even going to get made. And here I was really looking forward to some good Rage Against The Heavens.

  11. says

    It’s just a little early to deem The Golden Compass a failure because it won the weekend box office without setting any major records. The big question is whether it has any legs and will last for a while. Theater complexes aren’t as patient as they used to be, moving on to other movies too quickly these days, so perhaps it’ll hit DVD sooner than planned, but that remains to be seen.

    In the meantime, since Donohue is chortling over its supposed “failure”, I’ll make a point of going a couple of times. (It’s not just spite when you do it to piss off Donohue: it’s an act of positive goodness.)

  12. Moses says

    “Donohue concluded: “Let this be a lesson to militant atheists like Pullman: keep your hollow beliefs to yourself. And ease up on demonizing Catholicism-no other religion has done more to promote human rights, science and goodwill.””

    Ha, ha, ha, ha… It didn’t work out that well with the Harry Potter movies. Heck, I don’t even think they got much airtime off the Christian stations, though I remember a few rumblings. And the Catholic Church calling for a boycott of “The Di Vinci Code” didn’t seem to knock it for a loop – $758 million world wide.

    Maybe the quality of the story’s adaptation to film and the relatively unknown book have something to do with it… Not only was the movie panned by a LOT of reviewers, we’re talking world-wide sales of the entire trilogy, including the run-up to the movie which spiked sales of the book by 500% in the US, are 7 million units. To put it in perspective, the sixth Harry Potter book did that in one day. In just the United States.

  13. says

    My little heathen crew and I are off to inflate the box-office figures this afternoon. It’s playing on eleven screens in our godless area… just doing our part here.

  14. Landstander says

    I’m boycotting it because from the reviews i’ve heard, its a terrible film they’re taken out all of the major themes that criticise religion out of it. The series is one of my favorite set of books, why is it films have to be edited like this to be palatable to American audiences?

    Hopefully the university students going will recognise what a bad film it is.

  15. summatusmentis says

    I went and saw it on Saturday night, in the good old town of Morris. Overall, the movie wasn’t that great. Considering previous comparisons to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, I’ll follow suit. LW&W was a better movie, more well done. GC was decent, but it wasn’t as good of a movie. Well portrayed, but not as good as it could have been

  16. says

    Donahue is gonna gloat no matter what. But to put GC’s U.S. performance into more perspective, the theatre market overall has been dismal, with an estimated revenue drop of about 16 percent.

  17. says

    “But to put GC’s U.S. performance into more perspective, the theatre market overall has been dismal, with an estimated revenue drop of about 16 percent from last year.”


  18. says

    If it is an actual boycott, that is sad, because it really was a good movie (the changes to the ending were the only thing that irked my normally detail oriented heart). I just can’t imagine atheists boycotting the Narnia books, at least we seem to be able to recognize a good book whomever wrote it and whatever their beliefs.
    Also, we can recognize a bad one, which Christians seem to have problems with as well.

  19. dcwp says

    I want to see it, but it better not suck as bad as the last couple of movies I paid for. I went to Beowulf (wife’s choice) over the weekend and could barely sit through it. They managed to take a decent story, combine it with technology that offers endless possibilities for creativity and make it totally boring and lifeless. That must have taken effort.

  20. says

    Sorry to double post, gotta talk about this though

    “I’m boycotting it because from the reviews i’ve heard, its a terrible film they’re taken out all of the major themes that criticise religion out of it. The series is one of my favorite set of books, why is it films have to be edited like this to be palatable to American audiences?”

    It isn’t actually bad at all, and they say they took out the Church stuff, but they didn’t. They simply use the term Magestarium instead, which is found, at least in the second book. In fact, the Magestarium has a very active and evil role in the movie as compared to the book, and I really think the movie was more atheist and anti-church than the book.

  21. Colugo says

    I wasn’t always the mellow, conciliatory “appeasement atheist” I am today. A long time ago I was a more confrontational, blasphemous “militant atheist.” People like Donohue remind me why I once had that perspective.

    But I won’t go back to that stance. The community of theists is much more than obnoxious jackasses like Donohue.

    Now I’m rethinking my original plan of waiting for the DVD; rather, I just might see it in the theater out of spite for Donohue.

  22. Lena says

    His Dark Materials is one of my favorite series as well, and though the film doesn’t live up to the majesty of the book; movies never do. Be happy its giving the books so much publicity and enjoy the parts they got right. Plus, go watch it and form your own opinion; not just take someone else’s word for it… It IS a little fluffier as far as religious criticism goes, but it still there. And I don’t care what asnyone says; I think Nicole Kidman was a wonderful Ms. Coulter.

  23. El Cid says

    I don’t give a crap what the reviews or box office sales say. I didn’t read even one of the books, and it’s one of the best and certainly most gorgeous movies I’ve ever seen.

    And the heroine, Lyra, is the best young female heroine I can remember in any film.

    I just don’t get it. It was an absolutely stunningly good film with incredibly good scripting and acting. Oh well, people see what they want to see.

  24. says

    “Donohue concluded: “And ease up on demonizing Catholicism-no other religion has done more to promote human rights, science and goodwill.”

    Damning with faint praise, there, Bill.

  25. Nadeen says

    It is a good movie. I encourage anyone who thought they might like to see it to give it a chance. I assure you this is better than The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and any Harry Potter film I have ever not been able to finish.

  26. CalGeorge says

    The trilogy is selling well on Amazon:

    Amazon.com Sales Rank: #5 in Books

    That’s a good sign.

  27. Rey Fox says

    “Catholicism-no other religion has done more to promote human rights, science and goodwill.”

    We rest our case.

  28. Che says

    I saw it. There wasn’t any mention of religion at all and the first hour or so was mostly just talking (aka boring). They also seemed to jump around too much.

    The polar bear fight was however awesome.

    I don’t see why it’s getting so many bad reviews, it was up to par with most of the other crap that’s been coming out recently. Also when I went, the theater was fairly crowed and I saw it on Sunday.

  29. pablo says

    i was a fan of the books and heard that the movie was a poor adaptation. I only went to it because one of my coworkers told me that her church had sent her a lette urging a boycott. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. It might be hard to follow for people who haven’t read the book, but the story was more intact than i had been lead to beleive and as others have said, it is gorgeous to look at. Go see it.

  30. Chris says

    Haven’t seen the movie yet, was going to go last night, but was too tired. I’ll probably see it next weekend or during the week. I’m going to go buy the book tonight and start reading it.

  31. Chris says

    One thing I will say about GC, I didn’t see much promotion for it. Usually you will have trailers before movies months in advance as well as on tv. Although I have see trailers on tv and in the theaters it wasn’t until recently and closer to the release date. I think the studio might have been counting on other success like lord of the rings, narnia and potter to carry this movie. They possibly also looked at the success of Hitchens and Dawkins and probably thought they could ride that wave and the controversy wave and save some money on the promotional fees. Perhaps I’m wrong.

  32. Bill Dauphin says

    Ebert gave the movie a very good review,

    Roeper gave it a good review, too, on At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper, but oddly made absolutely no mention of the controversy. Not sure what I think about that….

  33. says

    I am planning to go see it during the week (perhaps tomorrow or Wednesday.) I bought the cheap collection of all three books in one volume and I am about 100 pages in to the first book. Where Lyra rides the armored bear (sans armor) in to the town and they find the boy who has been separated from his daemon.

    I rarely read fantasy, sci-fi, or fiction in general anymore. Not because I don’t like it but just because I have so little time for it. More like, I set aside so little time for it. That said… So far I have found the book to be very entertaining. I kind of like the concept of the personal daemons. If one accepts the idea of Hobbes in Calvin & Hobbes the daemon idea is easy to relate to. So far the way the story explains the environment, introducing the ideas and filling out the story just in time, is well done. I don’t find myself left hanging too long not knowing how the world of the Golden Compass works.

    I was planning to see the movie anyhow and even more so now that I have read a small part of the story. I read some of the reviews and I never put all that much stock in reviews. Some of my favorite movies… Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (and others) have all gotten poor reviews so the reviews don’t necessarily affect what I will and will not see.

    The first Harry Potter movie put me to sleep after 30 minutes or so. I haven’t bothered with the others. Nor have I read any of the HP books.

    I loved the LoTR trilogy, especially the versions where they include the extra footage. I read the books in my early teens and it had been long enough so I wasn’t too upset over missing characters or details. Only part that got a bit tedious was Frodo and Sam mumbling and sniffling at each other every 5 minutes or so.

    I have read that the movie has done very well in Europe and the UK… so perhaps there will be a sequel or two for the remainder of the books.

  34. RickD says

    It is quite interesting how Donohue takes such a thuggish attitude towards popular culture. His tough words scarcely hide the terror he has of ideas that oppose his own.

    I guess when you don’t know how to compare competing ideas the mere presence of alternate philosophies can be intolerably threatening.

  35. Carolyn says

    I saw it here in Memphis and other than my husband and myself there were only two other people in the theater. There is a boycott on the movie here (I hear my co-workers talk about it) and it is a darn shame. The movie is radiant, the special effects are wonderful, the story is good, the acting is great. It’s a beautiful movie. I haven’t read Pullman’s books and I didn’t notice any religious or anti-religious theme. People who get their panties in a bunch about it not being atheist enough or not being religious enough need to chill. There are other venues for religious discussion. Fantasy is about entertainment and being transported to a fantastical other world. This movie absolutely delivers the goods. It was glorious.

  36. kevin says

    Part of me wants to see it just to counter the fundies, but I gave up going to movies because of endless commercials and trailers, overpriced concessions, cell phones, jerk patrons and mall sized parking lots.

    I am sure none of that would explain why overall theater attendance is down, though

  37. SJN says

    Anyone else notice how the oversees reviews are more complimentary across the board than the American ones? Almost as if the reviewers did not want to appear to be bigots but wanted to find fault in other ways? The family saw it Saturday
    night (2 old geezers, 2 adult children – 21 & 24). No, it did not have all the world creating details of the book. It condensed quite a bit and I think they were wrong about cutting out the last three chapters to make the ending more up beat. I was the only one who had read the book. Son (24) and dedicated gamer scoffed at the idea that he might not be able to follow the story line or that it would move too fast. Daughter (21) asked at the end if that was all in a disappointed tone. All agreed that it was beautiful, liked the characters and that it was a good movie, but there could have been more to it. I thought it was too bad they did not include Serafina Pekkala’s daemon who was important both in terms of the action and the differences between witches and people in the book. Some of the connections between various groups could have been explained in more detail.

    I think the overseas box office has the potential to off set the US and that as more people buy the books it may get legs or a larger following in DVD. One comment I read on another site in reaction to a newspaper review which I think is very true: The US needs to start having a serious conversation about the role of religion. It is too bad the religious content was watered down because this country seems to have lost its historical memory of what happens when religion takes over the political structure.

    One last thing I might add is that some people may be so lacking in imagination and so structured in their thought that they just don’t get alternative versions of the world. Forget the reviews. Go see it for yourself. It may not be the best fantasy ever but there have been a lot of blockbusters in other genres where the underlying premises are lame at best. Pullman’s world are intricate and thought provoking. So employ the human capacity to temporarily suspend disbelief that is required to engage with myth and fantasy and enjoy.

  38. In defense of reading says

    Not all boycotters boycott for the same reason. I’m an atheist, and I’ll never watch this movie. I’d advise parents not to take their kids to watch it, too. Same with Harry Potter, same with LoTR. Taking a child to see these movies is stealing from them the joy of collaborating with the author in world-creation. Read them the books, instead! I prize the world Pullman and I created together in my head (I as reader, he as author), and I refuse to let Hollywood hijack it.

  39. says

    I prize the world Pullman and I created together in my head (I as reader, he as author), and I refuse to let Hollywood hijack it.

    Yeah? Show me.

    I wonder if what enables you to hang on to your fantasy that your “co-created” world is all that, is your refusal to hold it up to comparison with the collaborative work of others who aren’t afraid to offer their imaginations up for peer review.

    Whatever it is you’ve got against illustration, it’s your loss.

  40. Lena says

    CalGeorge, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who did that! (I got a Gibbon, so ease up on the primates, yes?)

    And as far as the defense of reading; art is shared. So share it. Be inspired by an opinion different from your own. Those people who made the movie arn’t Pullman himself, by they all have vision which is worth seeing. Besides, everyone’s imagination is a valid point of view.

  41. Molly says

    My only complaint was that the movie ended before the end of the first book. So the movie ending is all happy and hopeful, whereas the ending of the Golden Compass itself is anything but. My favorite part was the fight at Bolvangar–fantastic, especially once the witches show up.

  42. SJN says

    My daemon is a tiger named Sirion.
    All those who expect joyful, doctrinally correct submission from the female – beware.

  43. Kseniya says

    A couple of days ago, I had the dispiriting experience of talking to a twelve-year-old girl whose mother has forbidden her from seeing TGC (because it is “about the antichrist”). Ditto Harry Potter (“promotes witchcraft”).

    I assured her that TGC was not about the antichrist, and said that people object to the book because it was written by an atheist, which was too bad because the key themes (like those of Harry Potter) are friendship, loyalty, questioning authority, and confronting evil even in the face of great personal risk. She said, “Well, I want to be an atheist!” and vowed to convert her entire family.

    I smiled, and told her she could be whatever it was she wanted to be, and left it at that, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this girl represents a trend.

  44. SJN says

    It occurred to me that it is not just the Catholic look alike power of the Magisterium that is so threatening. What is the greatest wish of our heart but a companion who knows all our thoughts, shares all our experiences, loves us unconditionally, comforts us physically when we are cold or tired or afraid and is ours and ours alone forever? Isn’t this the relationship that the Church promises that loving God or Jesus holds for us but doesn’t deliver? This is truly subversive – that the promises of the Church are empty. The child and their daemon have the sacred relationship the church covets.

    By the by, intercision is not just a scary plot device here. In psychology and shamanism soul loss is a very serious and fearful process so Pullman is using an actual type of mental crisis in his story.

  45. says


    > I went to Beowulf (wife’s choice) over the weekend and could barely sit through it.

    Evidently, you did not see it in 3D.


    I plan to see the movie. I currently read “His Dark Materials”.

  46. bad Jim says

    I just saw it with my elderly mother. I think we both enjoyed it, and she wants to see it again because she didn’t understand it all. (Neither of us have read the books.)

    I suspect she found the daemons and the bears especially appealing. She’s an indiscriminate zoophile.

  47. Bill Dauphin says

    My only complaint was that the movie ended before the end of the first book.

    IIRC they did the same thing with Fellowship of the Ring. Presuming they’re thinking of the whole cycle as a single multi-“volume” work (as LoTR is often described), it should all work out in the end, no?

  48. says

    After having seen it this afternoon: it was entertaining, the effects were well done, bears were awesome, the book was better (as always). But what I took away was this: My eight-year-old son, eyes sparkling, as we left the theater, saying “Do you really have the book at home? Can I read it? Can I start tonight? And do you have the rest of them too?”

    That’s all I really needed to validate spending the money on tickets.

  49. Eric Paulsen says

    Just finished reading “His Dark Materials” tonight because of all this furor regarding the movie. As I suspected nobody calling for the boycott actually read the books. As a matter of fact one of the dim bulbs here in Flint, Michigan recommended that people go to snopes.com to find out more. SNOPES.COM?!? How about the library genius. The calls for a boycott are just sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    1) There was hardly ANYTHING objectionable in “The Golden Compass” to even the most hysterical Christian unless they are offended by the church’s role as tyrant. (see inquisition, the)

    2) The “Authority”, technically speaking, isn’t the creator, rather it was the first self aware being who appointed himself god by default.

    3) The crux of the story is about the struggle against mindless conformity to authoritarian power. If somebody hadn’t tipped off their congregants that Pullman is an atheist most of these crybabies, so terrified of other viewpoints, wouldn’t see any heresy.

    I will probably go see the movie when I can scrape up a few extra dollars, which in this economy might take me a while. One good thing about the knee-jerk reactionary frothing of the churchites, it usually leads me to read or see some excellent material I might never have been exposed to otherwise.

    On the other hand I STILL blame the Catholic church for TRICKING me into seeing “The Last Temptation of Christ” by boycotting it! Man, it was like a two hour Sunday school lesson THAT I PAID FOR!!! Hey Pope – I want those two hours back!

  50. Jeff D says

    I went to see TGC at a theater in an Indiana college town (across the Wabash River from Purdue University) on a rainy Saturday afternoon when the National Weather Service had issued a freezing rain advisory for later in the day. The theater was about 25% full. A theater across the river, much closer to the campus, also had less than 50% of the seats sold for a Saturday midafternoon showing.

    There could be a boycott at work, but bear these points in mind:

    1. The U.S. domestic boxoffice grosses for ALL movies was down for the weekend of December 7-9.

    2. For the past decade or longer, the “international” box office has been a more important source of revenue for the “studios” than the U.S. theatrical box office, and for the average movie, DVD sales are usually a bigger source of revenue than theatrical exhibition.

    3. Even if “all” reviews of TGC were, on average, mixed or slightly negative, the reviews in major-market newspapers were very positive.

    4. Positive word-of-mouth could lead to higher grosses (or at least sustained revenues) over the next 2 weekends. (I’m not holding my breath.)

  51. SEF says

    Anyone else notice how the oversees reviews are more complimentary across the board than the American ones?

    Not the UK ones I’ve seen – unless the US ones are really very bad. Jonathan Ross (who does the BBC’s main film review programme) had issues with it and so did the strange pack of people who get together in a dark studio to discuss literature and other artsy stuff (I flick past the programme occasionally but don’t know who they are!).

  52. says

    pradeep @ #3:

    Hopefully “The Subtle Knife” will be better as a movie

    The good news is that according to IMDB, “The Subtle Knife” has been announced, and with a different scriptwriter. The bad news is that said scriptwriter doesn’t seem to have a lot of titles to his credit; certainly nothing that I recognized.

  53. Kulkuri says

    #7 Have you checked the weather for MN lately? Nascar doesn’t have snow tires and tractor pulls shut down for winter.

  54. says

    Here in rural Ohio there was a concerted effort amongst the religionista to boycott it. We went the first night and the theater was about 50% full and almost all were college students. Local conservative talk radio (which makes the John Birch Society look pinko) fulminated against it for a week, and a representative of the local ministerial association (a fundamentalist) was said to have attempted to pressure the theater not to show it at all.

  55. Daniel Zahn says

    I went to see it at one of the most expensive theaters in California(Arclight Hollywood) at a ~5pm Sunday showing and the theater was full.

    I’m annoyed by the deviations from the book and some parts that they shouldn’t have left out. Don’t understand why had to switch around the major conflicts. Leaving out the true ending makes the next movie a harder sell. It was decent, not quite good.

  56. stogoe says

    I was astonished at how much better the third Harry Potter movie was than the first — so there’s still hope, quality-wise!

    That’s odd, because I despised HP Movie 3. It was just bad. Not as bad as the Black Spirit/White Spirit Flying Around Fight in HP Movie 5, but overall a much more terrible movie.

    Back to The Golden Compass, I saw it at 11pm on Saturday night, when the weather here was shitty, and there were three of us in the theater. And I really enjoyed it. Comparing film and novels is a pretty useless endeavor, as they’re different media with different narrative requirements. Still, it could have been a whole bunch better with another half hour or so to ground the tale in the surrounding world. I’m looking forward to a Director’s Cut/Extended Edition treatment.

  57. says

    I had some big issues with the movie (saw it opening night) in that [SPOILERS]

    The two most scary and moving scenes in the book were rendered completely null in the movie, which otherwise had many good features — Dakota Blue Richards is perfct Lyra, Nicole Kidman is great as Mrs Coulter, Lee Scoresby is great, etc. But the scene with the intercised child in the fishhouse was just ridiculous. Pullman establishes in the book that a person without their daemon would be seen in Lyra’s world as a complete abomination — I can’t rememeber the exact passage but that they would seem as wrong as someone missing half of their face. And so when we see the kid in the shed it just is like — the Magisterium gave him MRSA or something, and he doesn’t die. Same with the the near-intercision of Lyra and Pan at Bolvangar — in the book it is fucking TERRIFYING, and here it’s just lame. I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t have shot those scenes differently or set them up better.

  58. Stephen says

    Total US Gross $27,483,232
    International Gross $55,000,000
    Worldwide Gross $82,483,232

    It’ll make a viable return and then some with the dvd sales.