USCCB Movie Reviews

Why does the US Conference of Bishops have an Office for Film and Broadcast? What is the point?

Since Harry Forbes, director of that office, and John Mulderig, staff member, with combined forces, cannot muster up a review that gives parents even the remotest idea of the danger of The Golden Compass, the scope of its ideas, or the intent of its author, perhaps they should seek other employment. (Fortunately, no thanks to them, the movie is not doing well. Dear Bishops: do you know about supply and demand, and this principle’s application to the entertainment industry?)

First, their review disingenuously treats the movie as if it stands alone:

Whatever author Pullman’s putative motives in writing the story, writer-director Chris Weitz’s film, taken purely on its own cinematic terms, can be viewed as an exciting adventure story with, at its core, a traditional struggle between good and evil, and a generalized rejection of authoritarianism.

(Putative? If by putative they mean they don’t have time to Google what the author himself has stated with express clarity, then carry on. What harm can come, anyway, by casting unfounded doubt on what is well known: that Pullman targets God, the Catholic Church, and children’s trust with his writings?)

As Stephen Greydanus says in his review (and why doesn’t CNS simply link to Decent Films and save some money?):

Yet no responsible, thinking adult can ignore the larger cultural context to which a film belongs. Weitz’s The Golden Compass is now a pivotal property in a franchise that includes the three novels to date, the future films that may (depending on this film’s performance) be made, and the additional novels that Pullman plans to write, exposure and sales of which would inevitably benefit from this and any future films, if successful. This also, not just the images on the screen, is part of the reality of the film….

… Weitz is vocally committed in any movie sequels to a greater level of fidelity to Pullman’s message and themes. The comparative coyness of this first film, Weitz has said, is a strategic necessity; once the franchise is established, future films will mirror the books themselves in becoming more explicit and overt.

Second, the review downplays the objectionable aspects of the film itself. Where alert parents and Christian reviewers have expressed concern over the dark themes and anti-Catholic imagery (which remains, despite claims to the contrary), the CNS review uses adjectives like fanciful, appealingly no-nonsense, beautifully realized, superbly done, etc. etc., with little to mitigate this approbation.

Third, they only lamely attempt to rouse themselves to the demands of their job description (supposing they have one):

“To the extent, moreover, that Lyra and her allies are taking a stand on behalf of free will in opposition to the coercive force of the Magisterium, they are of course acting entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching.”

Way to throw in a useless statement, Harry and John! My friend Patricia suggests: “To the extent that Stalin loved his country, he was, of course, entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching.” See?

Having ducked really all the issues, Forbes and Mulderig weakly ask: “Will seeing this film inspire teens to read the books, which many have found problematic?” – as if recent history with phenomenal sales of Harry Potter books simply doesn’t exist for them. They just as weakly answer, “Rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens.”

What most people would appreciate, more than unasked child-rearing advice, is a genuine discussion of the content of the film by someone versed in cultural and moral references. Clearly, the issue with this movie is the advisability of exposing a child to this dangerous agenda masquerading as entertainment. We will handle the rest, thanks. We were just a little busy to be watching every movie that comes out, and we thought that perhaps, with a fully staffed Office of Film and Broadcast, you could help us with that. But, no.

It’s true, I suppose, that parents sometimes take children to inappropriate movies. My suggestion: perhaps the USCCB could produce a Good Movie, Bad Movie coloring book.

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Christine Hirschfeld

I never intended to run a Catholic antiquities and book business. Not in a million years. As a cradle Catholic, I grew up in a house that was filled with Catholic images and sacramentals not to mention an abundance of excellent books provided by family members who worked in publishing houses famous for their Catholic catalogues. The beautiful images and concepts presented in those books certainly had their effect in enhancing my identity as a Catholic. As the years passed, even in the midst of very un-Catholic settings, I became a repository for my friends’ Catholic “found objects.” Eventually, I had a family of my own. We’re a small family. There are just three of us. And two of us were born with the “junk collecting gene.” Garage sales attracted us like a magnet.
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