New Line Cinema’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass had its world premiere in London Tuesday night and has already received a four-star review from the Guardian, which called the flick “spectacular” and noted, “It has no other challengers as this year’s big Christmas movie.” Perhaps this praise will serve as some vindication for Pullman, Compass director Chris Wietz and all those associated with the film. As PW has previously reported, they have been under fire over the controversial religious content in Pullman’s book as well as the celluloid interpretation, which debuts here on December 7.
The large marketing push for the film—its official Web site has already received nearly 10 million unique visitors—has put an intense spotlight on Pullman’s work and has stirred up some fierce debate over what are deemed anti-Christian elements of his story. In the detractors’ camp, the Catholic League (not officially affiliated with the Church) has called, via its president Bill Donohue, for a boycott of the film, and a school board in the Halton region of Ontario, Canada has pulled Pullman’s books from library shelves in the district’s Catholic schools because of a complaint about the author’s statements that he is an atheist. Students may request the books in the school libraries, but the volumes are not openly available; the titles are being reviewed by a school board committee.
Though he has maintained a calm public demeanor as the kerfuffle has escalated over the last several months, Pullman recently vented some steam on the topic in a story in this week’s Newsweek. “To regard it as this Donohue man has said—that I’m a militant atheist, and my intention is convert people—how the hell does he know that?.… Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world.”
Pullman reiterated these sentiments in an interview with the BBC this week, stating: “The only person Bill Donohue represents is himself…. I don't want to talk about these criticisms about atheism in my books. It’s too long an argument to have, and there are too many layers to the subject.”
While the row rages in the court of public opinion, New Line is facing another Compass headache in federal court. On November 15, New Line filed suit in Brooklyn, N.Y. against Koch Entertainment and other defendants, alleging that Koch’s planned DVD release of a documentary called Beyond the Golden Compass: The Magic of Philip Pullman infringes on the New Line film’s copyright. According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, New Line asserts that Koch aims to “capitalize on the massive publicity and promotional effort attendant to the upcoming release of the plaintiff's film” and is seeking more than $10 million in damages. A ruling has not been issued to date.
Though box office success has yet to be deteremined, thus far all the hubbub has done wonders for sales of Pullman’s books. More than 10 years after its original publication, The Golden Compass (Knopf) appears on USA Today’s top 50 bestsellers list this week after experiencing a 500% increase in sales over the past three months. The book has sold more than 3.5 million copies in the U.S. and the His Dark Materials trilogy has sold more than seven million copies.