“Golden Compass,” Part 2

(CNS photo/New Line)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.

“The Golden Compass” as seen in the Catholic press

Dakota Blue Richards stars in a scene from the movie 'The Golden Compass.' (CNS photo/New Line)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)

USCCB reviews “The Golden Compass”

The much-awaited movie review of “The Golden Compass” has been completed by the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting. It gets an A-II — adults and adolescents. An excerpt from the review:

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 for the release of “The Golden Compass”

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.

USCCB says ‘Bella’ ’should resonate deeply with Catholic viewers’

Another followup to an earlier post: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting review of “Bella” is now publicly available. Harry Forbes (more about him here) says of the movie: “Above all, the film has an affirmative pro-life message, along with themes of self-forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption that should resonate deeply with Catholic viewers.”

Also, if you’ve heard of “Bella” but are unsure of the plotlines, Harry’s review also gives a good summation without giving everything away. The USCCB classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (And if you’re unfamiliar with our movie review section, you can explore it here.)

‘Bella’ opening draws lots of attention

With the movie “Bella” opening this Friday in select theaters, the Catholic press is filled with articles on the film, the plot and its main star, Eduardo Verastegui. Some examples:

  • The Leaven in Kansas City, Kan., tells how the local archbishop arranged a pre-screening in Kansas City after he saw the movie and found it positive and inspiring.  It says “Bella” compares favorably with such highly acclaimed movies as “Life Is Beautiful,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hotel Rwanda,” and “American Beauty.”
  • Another pre-screening of the film was held in the Diocese of Honolulu, reports the Hawaii Catholic Herald.
  • The Tidings in Los Angeles, in a story headlined “Only in Hollywood: Chance meeting after Mass leads to ‘Bella’,” relates how a meeting between one man struggling with his faith and another man quite comfortable with it (Verastegui) set the wheels in motion for the film.
  • In an editorial, the National Catholic Register says the movie “gives us hope that Catholics can reclaim territory we used to own, but have too often ceded: The arts.”
  • The Catholic Sun in Phoenix has an excellently written review of “Bella.” Writer Rebecca Bostic admits to some minor flaws in the movie but remarks that Verastegui gives an “incredible” performance and says the film “asks people to think about the mystery of life’s goodness” as did Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.”

Also worth checking out is this previous CNS News Hub entry on the film.

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