The Golden Compass (review)

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Almost Golden

It’s a bit Cliffs Notes-y, I can say as a fan of Philip Pullman’s fiction, a fan not just of the story he’s telling in his fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials but of the simple, handsome elegance of his prose too. To be fair, screenwriter and director Chris Weitz (About a Boy) has taken a sprawling story with a large number of players and condensed it extraordinarily well, combining characters and compressing events in such a way that the adventure is not at all diminished, nor are Pullman’s powerful underlying themes of the importance of freethought and the vitality of an inquisitive, playful soul. All the essential elements of the story are here… they just feel a bit rushed, as if this were a tourist’s perspective on the escapades of Lyra Belacqua. If it’s 30 minutes into the film, this must be the fun-with-Mrs.-Coulter segment, as it were.
I understand why this is the case. The Golden Compass, the movie, could have been a more leisurely three-hour symphony, one that captured visually the grounded but poetic expressiveness of Pullman’s writing. But this ain’t Lord of the Rings, aimed at grownup literature geeks and fantasy nerds: it’s meant to be a two-hour family film, one with a little something for everyone from eight to eighty. If things had to be a bit crammed in and other things had to be elided over, however neatly and efficiently in the process, so be it.

All that said, this is a magnificent slice of cinematic fantasy, perhaps the most perfect blending of live action and CGI ever. As it must be for it to work. Young Lyra lives on an Earth just slightly to the side of ours, one in which humans keep their souls on the outsides of their bodies in the form of animal familiars called “daemons” — this is so fundamental an aspect of Pullman’s fiction, his people actually dual creatures of human-and-daemon, that if we couldn’t believe this, we couldn’t believe any of it. Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, morphs his form — as all daemons of children do until they “settle” on one animal shape at adolescence — so beautifully as a CGI creation that he does indeed feel like an outward manifestation of Lyra’s personality, and there’s such character in his face, particularly in his favorite form as an ermine, that it seems impossible that he’s not real.

And the bears! The bears!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Orphaned Lyra (an auspicious debut by 12-year-old Dakota Blue Richards) lives a mostly unfettered life in the rambling world of Jordan College at Oxford University, looked over by the gentleman scholars at the behest of one Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig: The Invasion, Casino Royale), her remote and enigmatic uncle. Strange things are afoot: Asriel comes to Jordan to seek funding for an urgent exploratory trip to the mysterious North for reasons Lyra doesn’t understand — something to do with a substance called Dust — except to know that she wants to go along. This is refused, of course, but adventure of another kind comes calling when one of the college’s patrons, the sleek and sinister Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman: The Invasion, Happy Feet), adopts Lyra as her personal assistant — Mrs. Coulter, chance would have it, is also planning an expedition north, and that is all Lyra needs to know to sign on.

Though Lyra does not, of course, realize it, her new restlessness and curiosity about the larger world outside Jordan College is adolescence come knocking, and the wondrous thing about The Golden Compass — based on the first book of Pullman’s trilogy — is that it is an archetypal hero’s journey with a girl-child at its center, as its hero. This is a rare, rare thing: usually only the boys get to embark on such a grand and significant exploration of their own growing-up selves. Lyra is the literary sister of Frodo Baggins and Luke Skywalker (among many others), a secretly powerful child once hidden away and now blossoming into her power and yearning to break free of the protections that have coddled her. And the One Ring and the Force have their match in the alethiometer, the “golden compass,” a truth-telling device that comes into Lyra’s possession exactly when she needs it most, and when she is at exactly the right point in her own self-discovery to be able to use it. It will be her guide and comfort through encounters with Gobblers, child thieves and masters of ominous scientific experimentation; with panserbjorn, the intelligent, sentient armored bears of the North; with witches and aeronauts and gyptians and with truths about herself and her life of which she had no previous inkling.

Lyra is learning to become her own person: learning to think for herself. And this is what has some Christian fundamentalists like the Catholic League sputtering over The Golden Compass: author Pullman is a vocal atheist, and his fiction is forcefully, eloquently antiauthority — the attitude is very slightly more specifically anti religious authority in the books, but the point is still, well, pointed here. “There will always be freethinkers and heretics unless we deal with the root of the problem,” the head of the Magisterium, the ruling power of Lyra’s world, intones portentously — cracking down on such is the crux around which the action of the story revolves. If there’s one overarching theme that The Golden Compass harks on, it’s not “there is no God” but “authority brainwashes you on its way to stealing your soul.”

Think of the children! comes the cry of those would prevent impressionable children from seeing this delightful, if hurried, movie. Indeed. Imagine what horrors should befall them if we were to let them think for themselves. They might even be moved to read the book the film is based upon.

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Mina
Fri, Dec 07, 2007 11:09am

Wonderful review, MaryAnn! I’ve been so worried about this film, especially now that most critics have panned it – though Roger Ebert gave it FOUR STARS, which has my hopes up considerably for when I see it tonight.
I first read the books when I was Lyra’s age, and they have always been very important to me. If the next two books don’t get made into films, it’ll be a terrible tragedy.

Jurgan
Jurgan
Fri, Dec 07, 2007 11:53am

And Ebert’s a Catholic, no less. That, along with your nuanced review, assuages my fears that this was nothing more than a shirll anti-religious screed.

bats :[
Fri, Dec 07, 2007 3:04pm

I’m hoping that when it is released to video, that there might be an extended edition or director’s cut, to add some length to it. I think this easily could’ve been the length of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (which I think went way over the 2-hour mark)…I guess it’s impossible to get through to the Powers That Be that a good story will hold a child’s interest.

My husband and I are looking forward to this, to the point we were scouring the usual places for sneak peek passes.

John
Fri, Dec 07, 2007 7:24pm

Salon actually called it crap.

Mark
Mark
Fri, Dec 07, 2007 8:47pm

Salon actually called it crap.

What’s your point?

Mina
Fri, Dec 07, 2007 10:26pm

I find it funny how in Salon’s review, Stephanie Zacharek decries that the men of the Magisterium are portrayed as villainous because she percieved a gay vibe from them, but then she goes and makes a bitchy comment about Nicole Kidman looking like a drag queen. Wait, who is it that’s disparaging homosexuals again?

John
Fri, Dec 07, 2007 11:25pm

“What’s your point?”

That Salon actually called it crap.

Ken
Ken
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 12:22am

” To be fair, screenwriter and director Chris Weitz (About a Boy) has taken a sprawling story with a large number of players and condensed it extraordinarily well,”

No! No he didn’t! This movie is the worst adaptation of anything I’ve ever seen! He condensed it into meaninglessness! Nothing in this movie makes the slightest bit of sense or is governed by any sort of rule and all of the characters are blank-faced ciphers and ARGHGHHGHGGHG

I mean, Christ, you expect this incompetence from shoddy off-brand goods like “Eragon” or “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising,” but not this! Not this! I don’t understand how anyone could give this movie a thumbs up, but someone who’s actually read the Pullman books might be able to impose some logic on the freeform gibberish that is this movie.

Jared
Jared
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 1:35am

I went and saw it today and I totally agree with your review. There was a lot of condensing but none of it bothered me.

On the other hand, I do have one quibble with the movie. It is not required to follow “alethiometer” with “or golden compass” every time the word is mentioned. After the first few times, the audience should understand that they are the same thing.

Besides my minor quibble, almost everything else I liked: the casting was superb especially Lyra and Lee Scoresby, the CGI blended very well and made Lyra’s world appear to be a real alternate world, etc….

On the religious issues, the Catholic League and the Magisterium seem to agree that children should be protected from becoming “freethinkers and heretics”.

Interestingly, a Christian Science Monitor article bluntly states:
In short, Pullman doesn’t tell his readers what to think, but how to think. And to think, period. This, I suspect, is what Pullman’s critics really find unnerving.

Maral
Maral
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 3:13am

I loved a lot of the movie – the casting was great, a lot of the sets were spot-on – but the pacing was terribly rushed as you mention, and a lot of things were not explained well which I’m sure leaves anyone not familiar with the source material either scratching their heads or just completely blank.

Particularly: the human/daemon relationship wasn’t dealt with enough. When the taboo is broken it should affect us viscerally, and it doesn’t. The sequence with the bears was also truncated to the point that it had almost no impact or meaning.

The ending, however, left me UTTERLY baffled. Especially since all the trailers featured scenes which are clearly from what was meant to be the original ending (true to the book), but for some unfathomable reason they decided to just cut off the last 15-20 minutes of the movie in favour of a vague happy ending.

Drave
Drave
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 4:57am

After having thought about it for a couple hours, I have decided that the director made an incredible movie, and as close to perfect an adaptation as was possible under the circumstances. And then some suit from New Line came in and mangled it. I have never before felt such a strong sense that what I was watching was not the movie the director made. We can only pray that the director’s cut survives to exist on DVD, because I really want to see that movie.

Barb Gorczyca
Barb Gorczyca
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 11:07am

I saw the movie yesterday afternoon and have mixed feelings on it. First, the photography was gorgeous as well as the CGI incorporation. To me, the first half of the movie was a bit slow and it took a while to understand the basic premise of it. The second half was much better but like Maral indicated the ending seemed to end abruptly (to me this points to New Line tampering with the final product instead of going with the director’s vision). From what I can gather, the ending was removed deliberately so that it could be tacked on to the sequel IF the movie is successful. So, unless the movie bombs (which I doubt), we won’t see the REAL ending for a couple of years. This is one of the things I was not happy about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The movies moved around parts of the story which were part of that section of the book.

Mina
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 2:48pm

Well, my day is ruined. Looks like we won’t be seeing the sequels. Box office for this film wasn’t good :(

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 3:13pm

in favour of a vague happy ending.

I think that’s it exactly: they moved the ending of the book into the beginning of the next movie (if it ever gets made). I think that makes sense, though: it *is* the beginning of the next story.

Vergil
Vergil
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 8:02pm

Doesn’t it bother anyone that the “hero” of the story, Lord Asriel, doesn’t give two flips about his own child. And is just as willing to torture and kill another child as the ‘evil” Magisterium to achieve his goal? It must have bothered someone, as it apparently isn’t in the movie. This is just the pinnacle of the iceberg of problems with this series. It’s a little interesting, a little less fun, and a lot more dreadful (in the literal sense), and has a lot less to say about real issues than people give it credit for. It’s fantasy folks, not allegory, no matter what Pullman’s real-world views may be.

Jared
Jared
Sat, Dec 08, 2007 9:37pm

Vergil,

I never saw Lord Asriel as the hero. Nevertheless, he and Marisa Coulter appear to agree that the ends can justify the means. They both are willing to sacrifice children to achieve different “good” results.

You may see this as a problem but for me it’s the reason that the series is so good. If the series portrayed Asriel as the good rebel and Mrs. Coulter as the evil dogmatist, the series would be trite. Instead, the series offers complex characters where, in my opinion, Mrs. Coulter becomes more sympathetic than Asriel.

It must have bothered someone, as it apparently isn’t in the movie.

If they make a movie of The Subtle Knife, I bet it will start with that scene. They just wanted to avoid a sad ending.

It’s a little interesting, a little less fun, and a lot more dreadful (in the literal sense), and has a lot less to say about real issues than people give it credit for.

The series is dreadful? I don’t see that at all. The series is about hope more than dread.

Also, dogma and theocracy are real issues that this book addresses. It’s not offering a new dogma about dogma but it does offer a critique that is much needed.

Vergil
Vergil
Sun, Dec 09, 2007 12:03am

I have to admit I’ve yet to read the third book, but I do know a bit about what happens at the end (living in the age of spoilers as we do), so I’ll reserve judgement on Asriel’s status until then. Yet it seems to make John Parry’s outrage at “cutting children” a bit trite when he is willing to follow Asriel who justifies the same thing.

By dreadful, I don’t mean “bad” as the word has come to be used. I mean “full of dread”. The kids and the gobblers, the boy who was cut, the death of Robert, the kids watching their parents get attacked by the Specters…you may praise them for being un-Hollywood, but the couldn’t be any more full of dread if they were in a Stephen King story. It’s a matter of taste, but I’m not such a fan of King either. To say that it is a tale of hope certainly doesn’t endear it to me. The same could be said about the torture porn so in vogue. Those people are full of hope…hope that whatever is happening to them will end.

Martin Luther was a critic of The Church. C.S. Lewis was a master of allegory. Jonathan Swift understood the use of satire. If “His Dark Materials” is ANYTHING other than a better than average fantasy, then it can only be categorized as a Wicked Witch of the West genre, because the only thing it does well is attack the strawman.

John
Sun, Dec 09, 2007 11:33am

People have a tendency to overstate genius, when the words “good” or “really enjoyable” or “I loved it” will suffice. Too often, it backfires on the object of adoration and creates a backlash that consists of anything from “Well, I didn’t think it was that great” to “It’s not brilliant, it’s crap.” Such is the case with Pullman, who writes good books (far beyond His Dark Materials) for children. I love his work. It’s really enjoyable. If His Dark Materials is merely a good fantasy rather than a work of staggering brilliance, then that’s a pretty great thing to be.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Sun, Dec 09, 2007 4:31pm

Yet it seems to make John Parry’s outrage at “cutting children” a bit trite when he is willing to follow Asriel who justifies the same thing.

So it makes Parry a complicated and contradictory person… just like many real people are? (Does Parry even know about Asriel’s cutting of children? I can’t remember.)

What on Earth makes you think that Asriel is any kind of “hero”?

because the only thing it does well is attack the strawman.

Are you suggesting that religious authority/dogma is nothing but a strawman?

Vergil
Vergil
Sun, Dec 09, 2007 6:51pm

I’d say that the qualities of Asriel fit the usual characteristics of ‘hero’ in a story. Or perhaps an anti-hero. This is, of course, subjective. Like I said, I’ll reserve judgement until I read the last book. For a book that people claim is a commentary on religion, it seems to offer very little for comparison. If religion is ‘bad’, then what is ‘good’? What is the alternative? If everything is grey and everyone is wrong, then religion isn’t as bad as anything else.

I’m not saying that religious authority is a strawman. I’m saying that the religious authority in the books is a strawman. People see the similarities and say “oh, that’s the Catholic Church!”. But that’s like calling the alethiometer a compass. Saying “religious authority is bad because look how they act!” is like PETA saying “we must save the polar bears because they are intelligent and can make really cool armor!” The ‘church’ in the books has some catholic symbolism, but that is far from allegory. Calvin becomes Pope? That right there should point to the emphasis being on free will as opposed to organised religion. Many people don’t seem to be able, or willing, to make the distinction, however. They are happy to rally around something they mistake as an attack on religion (or if not mistaken, a very poor attack) not because of it’s merits, but simply because it an attack on religion.

Vergil
Vergil
Sun, Dec 09, 2007 6:58pm

John,

I’ve read reviews and commentary on many sites since the movie came out (and before). Yours was one of the most accurate and sensible I’ve read. You aren’t running for President by any chance? Not that you can win. I just want to be able to vote for someone.

Krow
Krow
Mon, Dec 10, 2007 11:26am

Do you get the impression that the Catholic League is really just that one sputtering, angry fellow we see on TV from time to time? I’m not all that sure there is a ‘league’… you know.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Mon, Dec 10, 2007 11:50am

If religion is ‘bad’, then what is ‘good’? What is the alternative?

Thinking for oneself. That’s pretty obviously Pullman’s point, I’d have thought.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Mon, Dec 10, 2007 9:48pm

Well, most religious people I do do think for themselves. They simply come to a different conclusion than you do, MaryAnn.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Mon, Dec 10, 2007 10:25pm

Unthinking adherence to dogma is not “thinking for oneself.” Note that I’m not saying that everyone who is religious is dogmatic, nor that people who aren’t religious can’t be dogmatic.

Vergil makes the mistake of characterizing *His Dark Materials* as antireligion. Pullman doesn’t say “religion is bad” (though even if he does, it’s not necessarily a requirement that he posit a “good” substitute for it). Because that point had already been made, I didn’t think it was necessary to repeat it.

C
C
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 6:48am

MaryAnn, you ignorant slut.

Thinking is fantastic. It’s the overthinking that gets pedophiles and child rapists six months of probation instead of serious imprisonment.

Human corruption has polluted religion. Not the other way around. A free-thinking and open society will result in nothing more than different but likely similar evil only it will be more tolerated by the masses.

Every new and exciting thing on this planet is created or discovered as a result of human inginuity. What’s more likely? We are a result of the inginuity of a higher being with similar motives (according to christianity we are made in his image) or that we are a 1/* fluke? It is a mathematical fact that more faith is required to believe there is no god than the other way around.

We are the constant here. Remove religion and there is still evil. Remove us and there is none. You cannot be a true athiest without lacking basic levels of understanding. Unless of course you are a hypocrite. Atheism has become it’s own religion and is known for the same self-righteous behavior that atheists balk at christians for.

There is no question that horrible atrocities have been carried out for the sake and name of religion but there has been more human death and destruction carried out by atheists in recorded history than anybody else. Where is the logic in atheism again?

Pullman’s books are firmly rooted in a hatred for Christianity. Nothing short of his own words. His Dark Materials is a direct antithesis to the Narnia series (which are blatantly christian in tone and theme) by his own admission as he refers to the latter works as “poison.”

My life has no meaning therefor all life has no meaning seems like a pretty destructive mantra if you ask me. Scientifically broken down the purpose of life is to eat and fuck. Propagation of the species. That is the alternative to religion. Maybe if he spent more time eating and fucking and less time preaching his beliefs he’d be a little less laughable and look a lot less like a dick. Once again, hypocrisy takes stupidity to a whole new level. None of that matters though because his prose is so handsomely elegant. Please…

Hating Christians: It’s the new black!

amanohyo
amanohyo
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 11:45am

Wow, ummm… Mr.or Ms. C, you sure know how to open a constructive dialogue. You asked a lot of questions and maybe MA will address some of them later, but I just wanted to mention that I have never met an atheist who lived as if their life had no meaning. In fact, most of the atheists I know live very productive, meaningful lives. It kinda makes sense if you think about it, and as we all know, thinking is fantastic.

MBI
MBI
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 12:43pm

“That is the alternative to religion.”

Hardly.

“There is no question that horrible atrocities have been carried out for the sake and name of religion but there has been more human death and destruction carried out by atheists in recorded history than anybody else.”

Doubtful.

I will agree that Pullman needs to shut up about my Narnia, though.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 1:11pm

Scientifically broken down the purpose of life is to eat and fuck.

What scares me is how awful it must be inside the heads of people like this. They cling to some nebulous idea of a deity and the rules he/she/it supposedly wants you to follow because they truly and honestly think this kind of desolation is what awaits them without religion.

Mark
Mark
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 5:16pm

Scientifically broken down the purpose of life is to eat and fuck.

What scares me is how awful it must be inside the heads of people like this.

Ironically, it seems to me that they have so little thought and reflection going on that they’d lead happier lives if all they had was the eating and fucking.

Mark
Mark
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 5:22pm

Hi, C.

It is a mathematical fact that more faith is required to believe there is no god than the other way around.

I think you’re misunderstanding something about mathematics here.

Atheism has become it’s own religion

I think you’re misunderstanding something about atheism here.

there has been more human death and destruction carried out by atheists in recorded history than anybody else

I think you’re misunderstanding something about history here.

Where is the logic in atheism again?

I think you’re misunderstanding something about logic here.

Scientifically broken down the purpose of life is to eat and fuck.

I think you’re misunderstanding something about science here.

C
C
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 5:48pm

You’re right. There is a third alternative. Human beings capable of being accountable for themselves and taking care of each other. The very concept of free will negates it as a possibility. Unless of course your goal is to indoctrinate every single child on this planet and remove their capability for independent thought. Wait a minute…that sounds like a religion to me!

Accountability for your actions is awful. That’s the whole damn point. It’s terrible fearing that every action and reaction you’re responsible for is wrong or unjust. Adversity causes growth. Even if you don’t “believe” the point is to grow as a person.

“Hardly.”

Pol Pot. Mao. Hitler. Stalin. Lenin. Napoleon. How many death are those six people responsible for? That’s just a handful for you and more than a couple were motivated by hatred combined with Darwinian theory.

Conversely, the Catholic Church is responsible for millions of deaths. Once again, human beings are the problem. Not the organizations.

Is it really that difficult to consider the idea of us being rats in a maze? If we are capable of running various creatures of “lesser intelligence” through different tests what is there to suggest that we aren’t being tested as well?

I LOVE how the open-minded people of today refuse to accept “God” as a possiblity because religion is too closed-minded. It’s one of civilized society’s absolute dumbest arguments. It defies the very definition of open-minded.

C
C
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 5:58pm

Mathematics and probability go hand in hand.

Atheism HAS become it’s own religion. The only thing lacking is a deity. People like Pullman are motivated to indoctrinate others because they feel with absolute certainty that they are right.

At it’s very base (according to science) the entire purpose of any life is self-propagation. What am I misunderstanding? Evolution is based purely on the concept of adusting in the interest of the survival of the species. Natural selection is the same at it’s core. Scientifically speaking, if the purpose of life is not to procreate, then what is?

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 6:20pm

C is right about one thing.

The Cultural Revolution and the Khmer Rouge, to name two, didn’t need religion as a driving force behind the deaths of millions; indeed, these movements were characterized by anti-religious sentiment.

The belief that genocide and hatred can be attributed directly or solely to religion is delusional.

Vergil
Vergil
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 6:56pm

Sorry I’m so far behind MaryAnn. Thinking for oneself is usually a good thing. I just don’t see where in the books this is espoused. I am not characterizing the books as “anti-religion”. Just the opposite. My criticism is not with the books, but with people who DO say they are anti-religion. As I said, they are a better than average fantasy story. But not the philosophical wonder that everyone gives them credit for. If there is any criticism at all, it is the type often used by Calvin in explaining the psychological and physiologicall shortcomings of his aquaintance Hobbes. Namely, sticking out his tongue, making an ugly face, and saying “This is YOU…nyah nyah!”

Mark
Mark
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 7:36pm

Mathematics and probability go hand in hand.

Indeed they do, but your assertion has little to do with either.

Atheism HAS become it’s own religion. The only thing lacking is a deity.

And an organizational structure. And social institution. And many other characteristics that separate religions from strongly-held beliefs about the world.

People like Pullman are motivated to indoctrinate others because they feel with absolute certainty that they are right.

How is Pullman indoctrinating anyone? Are authors not allowed to have their works convey an opinion?

At it’s very base (according to science) the entire purpose of any life is self-propagation. What am I misunderstanding?

You are mistaking causal factors for purposes; science can readily identify the former, as they are more or less observable. I’m fairly sure that the question of life’s “purpose” hasn’t been addressed by modern biology, and I’m not sure how it would be tested or even defined in a scientific context.

Evolution is based purely on the concept of adusting in the interest of the survival of the species. Natural selection is the same at it’s core.

That is not a correct statement about the phenomenon of evolution, or about the mechanism by which it occurs, natural selection.

Scientifically speaking, if the purpose of life is not to procreate, then what is?

Why does life have to have a purpose?

Mark
Mark
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 7:51pm

Is it really that difficult to consider the idea of us being rats in a maze? If we are capable of running various creatures of “lesser intelligence” through different tests what is there to suggest that we aren’t being tested as well?

What is there to suggest that we are?

I LOVE how the open-minded people of today refuse to accept “God” as a possiblity because religion is too closed-minded.

I’m betting I’ve met more atheists than you, and I’ve never met one who refused to accept “God” as a possiblity because religion is too closed-minded. Generally speaking, we don’t believe in gods because there’s no compelling reason to, and because we find that the idea makes very little sense.

Atheists (in my observation) aren’t “open-minded” about God for the same reason they aren’t “open-minded” about jumping in front of onrushing traffic : it’s just obviously a bad idea.

C
C
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 8:11pm

There is more in this universe pointing towards intelligent design than steering away from it. Everything is so meticulously calculated and finely tuned to suggest that it’s a fluke is irrational.

-religion-

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.

Your point is very knit-picky. Ok, so the PURPOSE of life is not deemed to be procreation but that has become the sole motivation for living things. But purpose is the end to motivation. A living being is motivated to eat and procreate for the purpose of survival of itself and turn, the species as a whole. A dog does not think, “If I don’t eat I will die.” He eats because he feels hunger. He’ll hump a female dog because his body is telling him that’s what is supposed to happen. To suggest that he is not motivated in those ways in an effort to survive and create more life is asinine.

Does nihilist kool-aid taste like anything? Life doesn’t HAVE to have a purpose. It simply does.

Also, last time I checked evolution was a theory, not a phenomenon. If science can’t adhere to it’s own rules of logic and principles then what is it good for?

C
C
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 8:22pm

What is there to suggest we are? Morality. Self-awareness. The impossible odds of us even existing.

Again…the universe as we know it is a complete fluke? In what way does that make sense.

Let me try it this way…

What motivates you to wake up every morning and continue living?

Mark
Mark
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 8:46pm

Your point is very knit-picky. Ok, so the PURPOSE of life is not deemed to be procreation but that has become the sole motivation for living things.

I’m a living thing, and it’s not my sole motivation.

Also, last time I checked evolution was a theory, not a phenomenon.

Evolution is an observed fact. There is also a widely-accepted, testable model with predicative accuracy that explains how these observed facts occur; this is what’s called a “theory” in a specific technical sense that doesn’t have the pie-in-the-sky connotations of the regular English use of the word “theory”. The so-called “theory of evolution” — that is, the predicative model that explains how gene distributions change in populations over time — is a theory in the same way that gravity (a predicative model that explains the observed motions of physical objects) is a theory.

Mark
Mark
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 9:03pm

There is more in this universe pointing towards intelligent design than steering away from it. Everything is so meticulously calculated and finely tuned to suggest that it’s a fluke is irrational.

I don’t know anyone who is suggesting it’s a fluke; that’s simply a strawman.

Here’s what I think: the nature of the universe set some initial conditions, defining basic physical laws and an initial distribution of matter and energy. From there, forces and materials interact according to these laws. Over time, things get very big and complicated, and some arrangements of matter get quite intricate. We — living things that can make mental models of the world around is — are one such type of intricate arrangement. It is of course possible that a different initial set of laws would yield a universe in which no such complex interactions and arrangements were possible. But if it did, we wouldn’t be around to see it. To look for agency behind the fact that we live in a universe that suits us is the anthropic fallacy; we live in a universe that suits us because that’s the only place we can live.

Intelligent design requires a designer, which (among many other things) begs the question of where the designer came from. It’s a cop-out, not an actual attempt to understand anything. Saying that there must be a designer, because you can’t see how things could be they are without one isn’t rationality at all; it’s just a anthropomorphism of ignorance.

C
C
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 9:43pm

Your body is specifically engineered to survive and create more of you. You could have a death wish and live your entire life not having sex and it wouldn’t change the fact that you eat every day and do what you can to survive because your body is telling you “SURVIVE AND MAKE OFFSPRING!” You are free to ignore these compulsions or urges. But why, in an unlikely universe in an unlikely galaxy on an unlikely planet are you the only living creature known to exist that has the ability to decide to ignore natural instinct? Ahh yes, because of some initial conditions of the nature of the universe.

What was the nature of the universe and how did it set it’s own laws? Has it existed forever? Has it existed forever in a simliar state as this one? Where did the designer come from, you question. Where did the universe “come from,” and why are it’s laws so specific to create out of nothing everything we know to exist?

What was the foundation of the energy and matter? Let’s say you buy into the big bag theory. Is it not strange to you that all the appropriate ingredients for this to happen just casually drifted together in space?

Intelligent design requires a designer. This is very true. Stick a monkey in front of a building and his brain couldn’t begin to tell you how it got there. All he knows is that it exists. Now, you could show that monkey how it got there by laying brick upon brick right along side the first building and he’ll begin to comprehend what’s going on but that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t know WHY it’s happening. Who’s to say it’s not the same with us? “Who’s to say it is,” you ask. But again, who’s to say it isn’t…you and your infinite knowledge of the universe and all it’s parts? Try again.

MBI
MBI
Tue, Dec 11, 2007 11:13pm

For what it’s worth, both Napoleon and Hitler considered themselves Christian.

“You’re right. There is a third alternative. Human beings capable of being accountable for themselves and taking care of each other. The very concept of free will negates it as a possibility. Unless of course your goal is to indoctrinate every single child on this planet and remove their capability for independent thought. Wait a minute…that sounds like a religion to me!

Accountability for your actions is awful. That’s the whole damn point. It’s terrible fearing that every action and reaction you’re responsible for is wrong or unjust. Adversity causes growth. Even if you don’t “believe” the point is to grow as a person.”

This doesn’t make ANY sense.

And you know what else didn’t make any sense? Chris Weitz’s screenplay for The Golden Compass. Seriously, can someone tell me what the hell was going on in that movie? Did anyone follow it that didn’t also read the books? Seriously, what the fucking hell, right? Let’s all discuss “The Golden Compass” for a little while, and how it worked or didn’t work as a movie.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Dec 12, 2007 6:19am

Hitler publically characterized himself as Christian because it would have been politically infeasible for him to do otherwise, but privately he had no religion and religion was on his list of things that had to go – starting with Judaism, of course.

But the specifics and the exact body counts don’t matter. Point is, genocide and hatred don’t go away or even diminish much if religion goes away. Any difference in ideology or skin color will do just as well as an excuse. Pretending that it’s all religion’s fault just makes things worse.

bronxbee
Wed, Dec 12, 2007 10:20am

“And you know what else didn’t make any sense? Chris Weitz’s screenplay for The Golden Compass. Seriously, can someone tell me what the hell was going on in that movie? Did anyone follow it that didn’t also read the books?”

i agree… it was wildly all over the place. the look of it was lush and beautiful (i once spent a summer in oxford and i loved how they used the buildings and architecture) and the rendition of the bears was fabulous but honestly — it was like the screenwriter(s) went through the book and said, “Oh, this would look cool…” and “The fight between the bears will be awesome…” and totally forgot the characters. i think the actors did the best they could with their sketchy and barely outlined characters but i was very disappointed. i could fill in all of Lyra’s rebellion and character because i’d read the books but you’d never get it from the movie.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Dec 12, 2007 12:54pm

Thanks, everyone, for having the patience to debate people who can’t be bothered to understand what the hell they’re talking about. You saved me a lot of banging my head against the table.

Point is, genocide and hatred don’t go away or even diminish much if religion goes away.

No one has ever said this was the case. But I think any freethinker, any humanist would argue that dogma — such as those exhibited by the likes of Pol Pot and Hitler and the Catholic Church — all equally dangerous. And of course the difference between Pol Pot and Hitler, and the Catholic Church, is that the first two burned themselves out pretty quickly: they did not espouse self-sustaining dogmas. The Church has been at it for 2000 years, though.

Vergil
Vergil
Wed, Dec 12, 2007 1:49pm

The other difference is that Hitler and Pol Pot were individuals. The church has taken the blame (and gotten the credit) for the actions of individuals for 2000 years. If you REALLY look through history, the ultimate cause of wars and oppression has been the whim and pride of individuals in positions of power be they clergy, monarchy, military genius, or simply charismatic personalities.

Mark
Mark
Wed, Dec 12, 2007 2:15pm

Your body is specifically engineered to survive and create more of you.

Loaded words like ‘engineered’ only confuse the matter. Your (and my) body was formed as part of an ongoing, multi-billion year process that winnows out structures that don’t survive well. One of the ways we survive well is by eating and fucking, just like many other animals. Another is by working together and communicating; some, but by no means all, other animals do that.

But why, in an unlikely universe in an unlikely galaxy on an unlikely planet

You don’t have enough information to assess the likeliness of these things.

are you the only living creature known to exist that has the ability to decide to ignore natural instinct?

There are, as I’m sure you are aware, numerous examples of altruistic behavior in nonhuman species, both inter- and intra-species; for example, loyal dogs that sacrifice themselves to protect their owners.

But — if you’re asking why humans can reason, can reflect on their actions, and make complex plans and long-term decisions that are at odds with short-term goals of procreation and feeding, then it’s pretty simple. Humans can think because thinking has enabled us to survive better, and we do this better than any other animal we’ve seen yet.

Ahh yes, because of some initial conditions of the nature of the universe.

Yup.

What was the nature of the universe and how did it set it’s own laws? Has it existed forever? Has it existed forever in a simliar state as this one?

All good questions. I don’t know enough about the state of contemporary cosmological research to know what the current best answers are; as always, science allows us to say “we don’t have enough information”. The problem, of course, is that it’s very hard to get meaningful information that would help answer these questions.

Where did the designer come from, you question. Where did the universe “come from,” and why are it’s laws so specific to create out of nothing everything we know to exist?

I don’t know. But I can observe the universe; I don’t need to postulate anything extra to explain it. Not so with a designer, whose very existence begs man, many questions.

What was the foundation of the energy and matter? Let’s say you buy into the big bag theory. Is it not strange to you that all the appropriate ingredients for this to happen just casually drifted together in space?

Again, nobody is saying anything about “ingredients” “casually drifting together”. And “strange” relative to what? I can only call things “strange” or “unlikely” in comparison to a meaningfully large population of other similar things. I’ve only seen one universe, so it’s pretty meaningless to describe any of it’s attributes as “strange” or “unlikely” in this sense.

“Who’s to say it is,” you ask. But again, who’s to say it isn’t…you and your infinite knowledge of the universe and all it’s parts? Try again.

I never claimed to have infinite knowledge, just that I can, with a suitable degree of parsimony, explain in general how the universe and all of its diverse contents came about without the assistance of an unseen designer.

bitchen frizzy
bitchen frizzy
Wed, Dec 12, 2007 3:27pm

“But I think any freethinker, any humanist would argue that dogma — such as those exhibited by the likes of Pol Pot and Hitler and the Catholic Church — all equally dangerous.”

Hmmm. I understand what you’re saying, but a phrase like “all dogma is equally dangerous” isn’t exactly reflective of freethinking – or of much thinking at all, for that matter. It’s a blanket statement, and a blanket condemnation.

(It’s like a dogmatic statement against dogma ;> )

amanohyo
amanohyo
Wed, Dec 12, 2007 8:04pm

Lately, when I feel the temptation to participate in these kinds of inevitably circular religious discussions I get on the elliptical and watch this guy:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=I5cXWElb-GE

He’s blunt (some would say nasty and intolerant) and always seems to be suppressing a lot of rage, but sometimes he has a point and he’s pretty articulate for a random guy on youtube.

But, back to the movie, the two biggest complaints I hear are about jarring transitions and a screenpay that feels rushed. Without giving away any major spoilers, could someone give me examples of these two flaws? Atheist brouhaha aside, is it simply an issue of cramming a lot of story into a short movie as MA says, or is it a badly made movie even taking the limitations of the license into account? This was going to be part three of a Sweeny Todd, Dewey Cox, triple feature, but I’m confused by all the mixed reviews.