Film Release Equals Controversy

"The Golden Compass" presents an alternate universe of armored bears and airborne witches. It's a fantasy film rated PG-13, aimed at kids and their families this holiday season.

But inside this shiny package lies a sinister gift, according to some Christian critics.

"I think that it's really slipping in atheism in kind of a backdoor fashion," said Bill Donahue of the Catholic League.

The film is based on the first volume of British writer and self-described agnostic Philip Pullman's best-selling trilogy, "His Dark Materials" which ends with the death of God.

"The Golden Compass" was first published in 1995.

Though there is no direct mention of Jesus, God, or the Catholic church in the film, children are menaced by a shadowy religious organization known as "the Magisterium".

Catholic League President Bill Donahue says that's a veiled attack on the Catholic church.

"The term Magisterium is used in the Catholic Church to describe the pope in communion with the bishops as the teaching authority," said Donahue.

And the Christian-oriented website has issued a warning against the film. Focus on the Family calls the source material "viciously anti-God" and the Catholic League is calling for an outright boycott of the movie, fearing it will push kids to read the books.

"The movie is fairly innocuous. But parents may decide to bring their kids into this little further by buying them the trilogy for Christmas. At that point they will have introduced their children to the virtues of atheism and the horrors of Catholicism," said Donahue.

So groups are forming across the nation via the internet, telling people to stay away from the movie.

One group on the com has already got more than 120-thousand members.

Chris Saunders with the Storehouse Christian Bookstore in Jonesboro says much of this is due to the fear of a personal attack on religion.

"I think anytime when you mess with somebody's theology, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Catholicism or anything, if you bring up things that they feel are disrespectful or disleading towards their particular faith, then you are going to have a reaction," said Saunders.

A spokesperson for New Line Cinema, the studio behind "The Golden Compass" says the film is neither anti-christian nor anti-religion, and that the novel has been praised for its quote "deep spirituality and exploration of important theological issues."

"I don't think that the books are a threat to organized religion. first of all, i think that organized religion is strong enough to stand on its own. Secondly i don't think that pullman is aggressively anti-catholic or uh anti-religous," said Chris Weitz, Director of the film.

Not all religious groups are unhappy with the film.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calls it "intelligent and well-crafted entertainment."

And Saunders says it's really just a matter of perception.

"If people just took the books by themselves, they wouldn't think anything about it. Because the movie was made, and author has now come out and given a few details about it and his personal beliefs, that has opened it up. Now people have opened their eyes to what is going on, saying, oh is there something subliminal in this or not," stated Saunders.

So far the film company has turned down interviews with author Philip Pullman, but in a London paper he was quoted saying the film and the books celebrate free expression while criticizing religious intolerance and hypocrisy.

We talked to local theatres who tell us they do plan to show the film starting Friday night.

Story ideas or comments?  Email Will at