There’s a new movie out called “New in Town” featuring Renee Zellweger that by all reports might be worth seeing. The National Catholic Register posted a blog item about it earlier this week headlined “New Film Respects Christianity.” You can read the review of the movie here from the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting, plus we had a story this week about one of the co-stars, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, the mother of three children in a Catholic school in New Jersey.
I’ve been catching up on movies lately.
Mostly I’ve been renting films that I missed last year (“The Visitor,” “Dark Knight,” “In the Valley of Elah” — all definitely worth the rental, though a bit depressing to watch in close sequence). In theaters, I appreciated “Frost/Nixon” for the entertaining back story on the first political scandal I followed in the news, and I am anxious for more friends to see “Doubt” to be able to discuss it.
So I was interested in this take on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” that I saw in the Catholic New World, the Chicago archdiocesan newspaper, by Sister Helena Burns, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a pro-death movie. Let me explain. We’re all terminal. We’re all dying. And “CCBB” says that’s OK. Death isn’t glorified or dressed up pretty (because, as one of the Fathers of the Church said, “death is a cosmic obscenity”). Death is just is what it is, a member of the human family. Not banished, not locked up, not thrown in the river. Death has its place at the table of life and is mentioned, talked of, thought of, expected, accepted.
“CCBB” is also a pro-life fairy tale. The characters are in each other’s keep. They take care of each other whether they’re white or black, young or old, healthy or deformed. Irregular babies and messy old people all belong and are loved by someone.
She goes on to flesh out those points, making the film sound like I’ll move it from “maybe” to the “must see” list.
Just about everyone familiar with cinema knows that Charlton Heston, who died April 5 at age 84, played Moses in the 1956 Hollywood classic “The Ten Commandments.”
But it would take a real film buff to remember the other “holy” roles Heston played, including St. Thomas More in a 1988 TV remake of “A Man for All Seasons,” St. John the Baptist in 1965′s “The Greatest Story Ever told,” Sistine Ceiling painter Michelangelo in “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (also made in 1965), Cardinal Richelieu in the 1973 film version of “The Three Musketeers,” and Judah Ben-Hur in 1959′s “Ben-Hur,” for which he won the Oscar for best actor.
But he topped all of those characters by playing God in an uncredited appearance in the 1990 movie “Almost an Angel.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service to promote the movie, Heston said he told Paramount Pictures, which produced the film, that he didn’t want any billing: “It really is ridiculous to say ‘God — Charlton Heston.’”
In negotiating with studio execs, Heston added, he told them, “God doesn’t need billing.” Heston said the studio replied, “God doesn’t need to be paid either.” Ultimately, Heston and Paramount worked out a deal in which the studio didn’t have to pay the actor an almighty sum.
If you have been following the controversy over the review of “The Golden Compass” by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting, you’ll likely be interested in reading this story in the Fairfield County Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. Headlined “Film office under fire for doing its job,” the story interviews director Harry Forbes about the controversial review and its subsequent withdrawal, the difference between “The Golden Compass” and “The Da Vinci Code,” how the office’s review process works, the earlier controversy over the review of “Brokeback Mountain,” and the separate controversy over how New Line Cinema used the “Golden Compass” review in its advertising.
Today the U.S. bishops withdrew the review of the film “The Golden Compass,” which opened in theaters in the United States Dec. 7. The review was written by Harry Forbes and John Mulderig, the director and staff reviewer respectively of the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The review was released and posted on the CNS Web site Nov. 29. The USCCB gave no reason for withdrawing the review.
Since CNS is a distributor of media reviews of the OFB, it must respect the office’s withdrawal of its review. Effective Dec. 10, the review of “The Golden Compass” will not be available on the CNS Web site. It will not be included in subsequent listings of USCCB film reviews and classifications.
CNS stories about the film remain available to clients. These include:
Also, since our last post on the CNS News Hub, there’s also this item of interest: ‘Compass’: Challenging believers to articulate faith, values, by Sister Rose Pacatte.
UPDATE on Dec. 11: Comments on the review of “The Golden Compass” or its withdrawal by the USCCB can be sent to CommDept@usccb.org.
Or maybe this is Part 3, if you count both the brief post here from last month and our comprehensive look two days ago of Catholic press coverage on both sides of the issue.
More items found since Wednesday:
– Bishop Jerome E. Listecki of La Crosse, Wis., asked in a letter to pastors in his diocese that they avoid “The Golden Compass” and caution parishioners “against this pernicious attack on the foundations of our Christian faith and on the innocence of our children.”
– Joe Towalski, in an editorial in this week’s edition of The Catholic Bulletin in St. Paul, Minn., says he got a “sneak peak” screening of the movie last weekend, defends the controversial review by the U.S. bishops’ film office, but also says the problem is “the agenda that may lurk behind it” and credits the Catholic League with providing a valuable service to parents in its booklet on the movie.
– Catholic Digest magazine offers an analysis of the controversy surrounding the books and the movie in a Q-and-A format titled “Should our family watch ‘The Golden Compass?’” It’s conclusion? Families should make “a prayerful, informed decision whether or not to see the movie or read the books” and, if they do so, have a serious discussion ”to engage children in a better understanding of why we as Catholics believe what we believe.”
– The National Catholic Reporter examines the controversy as well, focusing primarily on the books that are behind the film.
There is no way this is everything. We’ll probably have more links to more viewpoints next week.
Long before the firestorm that greeted the review of “The Golden Compass” posted here last week, CNS and its partners in the Catholic press have been covering the growing controversy surrounding the movie. Like in the public at large, there’s no unanimity in church circles on the movie or the books behind the film. But there are plenty of resources available for those still trying to make up their minds.
For us, the coverage began five weeks ago with a story out of San Diego on the trilogy of books behind the film. Even then, before many even knew about the December release of the film, concern was being expressed that the movie might make the books more attractive for young readers.
But that was just the tip of the snowball (pardon the mixed metaphor) that was beginning to gather steam (pardon again …). In short order there were articles this fall in the National Catholic Register, the Catholic New World in Chicago, Our Sunday Visitor, The Monitor in Trenton, N.J., and The Catholic Moment in Lafayette, Ind., among others, mostly critical of either the movie or the trilogy by British author Philip Pullman.
Another CNS client, America magazine, posted an item on its blog by Jesuit Father James Martin, author of last year’s Catholic best-seller “My Life With the Saints.” In the blog, Father Martin agrees that warnings to parents might be legitimate and asks those who have read the book or seen the movie to weigh in (and several did, leading to a lively discussion).
At least one bishop also has weighed in: Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans. In a column in late November in his newspaper, the Clarion Herald, the archbishop wrote that books in the Pullman trilogy “surreptitiously lead children to atheism and pose a special threat to Christianity.”
But when the movie review for “The Golden Compass” was released by the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and posted on the CNS Web site (technically it’s not our review; we simply distribute film office reviews to the Catholic press), the question raised on a number of blogs and elsewhere was whether the review missed the boat in its evaluation of both the film and the larger controversy over Pullman’s trilogy.
Here too there is little unanimity. One editor of a diocesan newspaper (I’m not naming names here since these are simply e-mail chats and not published commentaries) told me that the review posted by CNS “downplayed and misrepresented the concerns that have been raised about the movie.” This editor said the review implied “that it’s not known for sure that the books are anti-Catholic when the author has, as a matter of public record, stated that his books are about killing God and that he wants to undermine the basis of the Christian faith.”
Another editor, though, said the reviewers “did a fine job.” They looked at the film “on the face value of the movie. Period. Not what it could have been, should have been, etc.”
Defenders of the review also point to positive evaluations of the film by Signis: The World Catholic Association for Communication and by media expert Sister Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul.
Signis uses words such as “well-made” and “intelligent” and says the film should be appealing for adolescents and adults. Sister Rose says the film “is an opportunity for us to develop our critical thinking skills: to ask questions and seek and articulate the answers: the answers to ‘why?’”
When I mentioned these to another editor I’ve been in correspondence with this week, he said he thought both Signis and Sister Rose “fail to appreciate the fact that these books, of which the movie is a lead-in, are for children” and that responsible critics of the books have been warning parents and educators about their dangers.
Another sharply critical analysis of the film and books appeared last month in The Observer, newspaper of the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., by Msgr. Eric Barr, the vicar for clergy and religious in Rockford who is described by the paper as a fantasy-film fan. He wrote, “Clearly, the film and the books it is based upon are an attack on Christianity and the values Christ taught.”
So, is “The Golden Compass” “overtly anti-Christian”, or is it a film that children can handle with the guidance of their parents? That’s up to individuals — and especially parents — to decide.
PHOTO: Dakota Blue Richards stars in a scene from the movie ‘The Golden Compass.’ (CNS photo/New Line)
Most moviegoers with no foreknowledge of the books or Pullman’s personal belief system will scarcely be aware of religious connotations, and can approach the movie as a pure fantasy-adventure. This is not the blatant real-world anti-Catholicism of, say, the recent “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” or “The Da Vinci Code.” Religious elements, as such, are practically nil.
Read the full review here.
Preparing readers for next month’s release of the theatrical movie “The Golden Compass,” the National Catholic Register this week offers a story on the controversy surrounding the film. Since part of the controversy is about the atheism of the author on whose book the film is based, the paper also lists what it calls six common myths of atheism.