Monday, January 18, 2010

Avatar - Pocahontas in Space

My seventeen year old daughter said it best: "Pocahontas in space." The plot, the characters, the themes, the nature worship, the technical effects--pretty much all of it--Pocahontas in space. Like Pocahontas, it was pleasant enough to watch and, like Pocahontas, it probably won't do any permanent damage to anyone who is resistant to its ideological freight, but with all of this animistic antihuman propaganda hitting your kids from all sides, they probably don't exactly need this one.

Who Said This?

Every heresy is a truth run amok.

For the Record

The worst enemy of a good principle is the fool who carries it to a ridiculous extreme.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Catholic Movie Review - Prince Caspian (2008)

We all trooped down to the local cinema tonight to catch Prince Caspian, the second installment of the current Chronicles of Narnia series, and were not disappointed. My children have been eagerly waiting for this release. They've had a full page ad announcing the release date posted on the wall of their study for several months now.

Like the previous movie, the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian reworked some of the sequence and added some incidents to give the plot, which tends to unfold rather more like a pageant than an thriller in Lewis' books, more dramatic punch and, in my opinion, succeeded. While a complete explanation might spoil some surprises, the major changes seemed to be consistent with the character, themes, and thrust of the book.

There were a few minor annoyances, of course. Since this is a movie made by a Hollywood studio, the only character who expresses thanks to God is the main villain. In fact, all the villains seem to be Spaniards from the age of the armada, and suggested, to me anyway, the standard Hollywood canard of the evil Spanish Catholics of the black legend. The clarity of the allegorical identification of the dwarf Nikabrik with materialism and the dwarf Trumpkin with Enlightenment scepticism has been muddied. Also, as others have pointed out, Aslan's divinity has been undercut by subtle changes to some of his lines. For example, rather than saying that no one is told what would have happened if he had acted differently, Aslan says that no one *knows* what would have happened, implying that Aslan doesn't know, either. In another scene, rather than saying that, as Lucy gets bigger, he appears to her to be bigger, Aslan says that, as Lucy gets bigger, he *gets* bigger.

That being said, the movie is technically very good. The photography is beautiful, the action sequences are convincing, and the computer graphics are seamlessly woven into the live action. Most important, Lewis' morality and theology inform the action, which is not only important didactically. Rather, it gives the movie its main dramatic interest, and makes it more than a lot of random fighting and special effects. It is the absence of such a moral and theological context that makes so many Hollywood fantasies, like the recent Mr Magorium's Emporium and the Golden Compass, so boring.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Catholic Movie Review - Horton Hears a Who

I guess I should be happy that Hollywood managed to make a children's movie that is actually rated G, free of flatulence humor, and reasonably entertaining, but I can't get excited about this one.

On the plus side, this Dr Seuss story is generally seen by prolifers as one with a prolife message. However, the author's widow has been so hostile to that message that I can't feel good about spending my money knowing that a portion of it will be passed on to her. Moreover, contrary to all reason, the screenwriters managed to make the villain of the piece a home schooling mom, of all things.

While it has good computer animated graphics, including impressive realizations of the jungle, Whoville, and their denizens, the simple story doesn't stretch to feature length without getting thin, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo Baggins once said.

So, if it's in the neighborhood, you've nothing better to do, and your kids want to see a movie, you could do worse. On the other hand, unless you really love computer animated graphics, you may as well just put it on your Netflix queue for later.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Witness to Hope: The Life of John Paul II (2002) - Catholic Movie Review

If you are looking for a documentary version of the life of the late great John Paul II, the one to see is Witness to Hope - The Life of John Paul II (2002). This documentary features information from and interviews with George Weigel, who wrote Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, the definitive biography of the pope written during his lifetime, which is well worth reading.

If you're interested in learning about JPII's thought, you'll have to read Weigel's book, some of the pope's actual writings, or one of the popularizations that have been produced concerning his theology of the body, which is perhaps the best known manifestation of his Christian personalist approach to solving the modern problems that made the twentieth century so bloody, and that appear to be continuing to accelerate in the twenty first.

John Paul II (2005) - Catholic Movie Review

If you want to see a dramatization of the life of the late great John Paul II, this made for television movie, for which John Voight won an Emmy, and Cary Elwes (whom you may remember from The Princess Bride) plays the young Karol Wojtyla before he becomes pope, is the one to get. It appears to be very accurate as well as very well produced and acted. While I am not a JPII expert, I have been able to confirm many of the facts and events portrayed, and have not found any glaring inaccuracies.

If you are looking for a documentary, the one to see is Witness to Hope - The Life of John Paul II (2002) , which is reviewed in another post.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pan's Labyrinth - Catholic Movie Review

While the movie Pan's Labyrinth has some artistic merits, there are both obvious and subtle reasons to avoid it. Some of the obvious ones:

1. It is very violent. The protagonist's stepfather does things like beating one person's face in with a bottle, and torturing another until he begs for death.

2. The characters professing Christianity are all monsters and hypocrites.

3. The good guys are all creatures out of pagan mythology and their friends.

Spoilers follow.

The less obvious reason Pan's Labyrinth troubled me took a while to figure out, but I think I finally have it. Many of the people who liked this movie said they saw many Christian elements in it. For example, the heroine sacrifices herself rather than permit the sacrifice of an innocent baby, and is rewarded with life after death. This is a good thing, no?

Well, what the protagonist does is good, but the context makes the message all wrong. Essentially, what we have here is yet another attempt to say that the good stuff about Christianity can be had without Christ. This is the great theme that runs through most bogus modern spiritual substitutes for Christianity, including atheism. It should be easier for us to spot by now. After all, John Henry Newman pointed out over a century ago that the problem with atheistic humanism is that it thinks it can have the fruits of Christianity without the roots.

In Newman's time, it was humanists claiming they could have Christian morality without Christ. Now, it's pagans claiming, in fiction anyway, that they can have the whole enchilada -- redemption and eternal life -- without the redeemer and giver of life. The sad thing is, after decades of cultural decay, this ridiculous claim seems plausible to many, at least on an emotional level. And it is on an emotional and imaginative level that this movie will do its harm, by associating Christianity with sadism and death, and paganism with "truly Christian" nobility and eternal life.

I would recommend this movie only to mature and astute Christians whom it may help by training them to discern elsewhere what I think is a particularly insidious and currently widespread tactic of the enemy of mankind -- the fictional portrayal of Christianity as unchristian, and of paganism and atheism as truly "christian." Once you learn to recognize it, you will see it frequently.

Hmmmmm. I just found an interview with Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan's Labyrinth, at It looks like my surmises above about what he was trying to do were right on the money. It was not even subconscious, as it is with some. He apparently knew exactly what he was doing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Shadow of the Bear - Regina Doman

If you are looking for a wholesome and entertaining adventure book for a girl who is of an age to be interested in clothes and boys, you don't want to miss this one. By a Catholic mother of (at last count) seven children, The Shadow of the Bear is the first in what recently became a trilogy that continues with Black as Night and Waking Rose.

My 15 year old daughter tore through the first book in about a day, finished the second the next day, and asked how soon we could get the third, which we recently obtained. She has lent the first one to a friend, who also loved it and is asking for the others. Her thirteen year old sister is now reading them, too.

I now have read all three books and, while they may never be studied in great literature classes, they were competently written and engaging. They were a little too heavy on descriptions of clothing, feelings, and relationships for this middle aged man, but I suspect that is part of their appeal to my daughters. The heros and heroines are virtuous, reverent, and chaste, and respect each other for it. They also all seem to be fans of G.K. Chesterton.

Parental discretion is advised for the third book in the series, which turns in large part on the self doubts of a male character who was apparently sexually abused at various times in his life and, while the author tries to handle this with discretion (so that it may not be fully understood by younger readers), it may be a little heavy for children under 16 or so.

The books are based on Grimm's Fairy Tales, and I enjoyed seeing how the characters are translated to a modern setting. For example, the seven dwarves in the forest become seven friars in the south Bronx (who bear a suspicious resemblance to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal founded by Father Benedict Groeschel). The fairy tale origin has a few minor drawbacks. For one thing, since the characters in those old fairy tales always seem to be getting betwitched and falling into a deep sleep, the people in the books fall into and emerge from perhaps one too many comas. I doubt that this will bother many young teens, though.

Author Regina Doman has a website with more information about her, her interests, and her books, at

I wish there were more books like this. If you know of any, for girls or boys, please tell me about them.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Amazing Grace - Not to Be Missed

If they're old enough to understand the story, which is about the struggle to end the slave trade in the British empire, I highly recommend that you watch this movie with your children. It is involving, entertaining, inspiring, informative, carefully produced, historically faithful, thought provoking, well made, and well acted. It's also very prolife, prochristian, and profamily. A rare gem.

Our family (ages 9 to 55) saw Amazing Grace at a movie theater when it was released. All of us liked it, and all of us, I think, are better for it. This is now on my very short list of films that I try to make sure is seen by every young person in my life, along with A Man for All Seasons, Chariots of Fire, and The Miracle Maker.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pierced by a Sword, by Bud McFarlane

Both those who love this book and those who hate it are right.

Bud McFarlane is not Dante, he is not Dostoevsky, he is not Dickens, he is not even John Grisham on a bad day. I'm guessing that the writing is probably on a level with a lot of the trashy novels that you see around the airport (though I have to confess that I've never read any of them--one novel by Grisham or Mitchener every decade or so is about as much time as I can stand to waste).

That being said, a lot of people LOVED this book. I read it when a fellow Catholic pressed it into my hands and told me that it was the best novel she had ever read and that I HAD to read it. Even though I winced at some of the writing, I did find the book to be a page turner, and it was exhilarating for me, and I'm sure for many others, to read an action adventure story that is based on an overtly Catholic view of both the spiritual and material realms.

The History of Christendom, Volume 1: The Founding of Christendom, by Warren Carroll

At last! After literally years of reading and perusing dreary histories of Christianity evidently written by nonbelievers, I finally found this set.

As far as I know, The History of Christendom is the only competent history in English that is written from the perspective of an actual Christian ("Triumph" was well meaning, but not very good history, and I was unable to finish it). The astounding truth and significance of the incarnation gives meaning and excitement to every word of the text, which is packed with good reliable information, including wonderful footnotes. The first volume, which is called The Founding of Christendom, goes from the beginning of the world through the end of the apostolic age, and contains fascinating footnotes concerning a lot of the scholarly fads in biblical interpretation.

This is the set you must have for yourself and your children.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas

The The Twelve Dogs of Christmas is a lot like all those small budget live action that Disney made during the 50s and 60s--implausible plot, cardboard cutout villains (the town dog catcher, who else?), sappy sentiment, spunky kids whose crusade melts the hearts of some hard hearted villains, lots of relationships and spirits healed, and lots of cute dogs. In short, my ten year old son and my thirteen year old daughter loved it.

MPAA Rated G. Nothing objectionable, unless you count some oblique and ambiguous references to an old love affair in which a promise to marry a spinster was apparently never kept, and a lot of feel good Christmas stuff that never gets around to mentioning the reason for the season. Available on Netflix.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Golden Compass Pointing Nowhere is Leaden Loser

In a previous post I predicted that the Golden Compass movie, after a reasonably strong start, would not break any records, and that this would happen, not because of the well-deserved boycott, but because a fantasy world without God in it is just not very interesting. Looks like I was right on both counts.

After opening in the US in the number 1 spot, though with an unspectacular box office of $26 million, on the second weekend it tanked by 66% and dropped to third place behind I am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks. Most mainstream reviews (including some by avowed atheists) have agreed that, for all the money that was spent on it (at least $200 million, according to reports) the movie seems strangely hollow, cold, and unaffecting. As is so often the case, only believers seemed to have any clue why.

A recent article in the Vatican newspaper, as reported by the Catholic News Service, got it exactly right:

"It's a film that leaves one cold, because it brings with it the coldness and the desperation of rebellion, solitude and individualism....In the world of Pullman, hope simply doesn't exist, in part because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events....

"The spectator of this film, if he is honest and gifted with a critical spirit, will feel no particular emotion, except for a great coldness -- which is not only due to the polar scenes....when God is pushed off the horizon, everything is made smaller, sadder, colder and less human...."

Several US bishops, in stark contrast with their film office, whose laudatory review was withdrawn after a spirited protest, also got it exactly right. Among them was Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, who wrote:

"We are about to be treated to a new film entitled 'The Golden Compass'....As we conclude our Christian liturgical year, the Church reminds us there is a spiritual war going on. The kingdom of Satan is at war with the Kingdom of God. Rebellion, from the beginning, has been Satan’s goal. His weapons are violence and deceit. In some ways, violence is easier to fight against. It is more obvious and more abhorrent, even though we have a great deal of difficulty in containing it today.

"Deceit, however, is subtler and more subversive. It fosters rebellion through half-truths. Satan seduces some people to say yes to creation, but no to the Creator. Satan leads some to say yes to God, but no to Christ. These people embrace New Age spiritualities. Satan will lead others to say yes to Christ, but no to the Church. They may be scandalized by sin in the Church and cannot accept the promise of the risen Lord to remain with his Church ‘til the end of time. Satan may lead others to say yes to the Church, but no to at least some of her teachings and moral requirements. They accept the Church on their own terms, yet still consider themselves fully Catholic. The dramatic moral struggle for our souls is being played out in some way in the lives of each of us.

"The spirit of rebellion is the chief legacy of our first parents. In our own culture, the entertainment industry, public media and the elite of academia seem to have joined forces to promote it....

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver wrote:

"It’s long, complicated, and despite a very gifted supporting cast and wonderful special effects, the story is finally lifeless. Much of the movie takes place in the polar north, and the iciness of the setting is a perfect metaphor for the chilly, sterile spirit at the heart of the story. Anyone expecting a playful children’s fantasy would do well to look elsewhere....Strangest of all — and in striking contrast to the Harry Potter and Narnia stories — is the absence of joy or any real laughter in the movie."

Glad to hear my opinions backed by competent authority. :-)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Golden Gobbler

Ha! I was right.

Some reviews:

"The Golden Compass is a shivering, soulless wreck...." Scotsman

"Here is a magical-mystery movie with everything money can eagerly buy: big-name stars, boffo effects, a story pre-sold in a mass-cult fantasy novel. The only thing "The Golden Compass" lacks, alas, is magic." MTV

"....clumsy caroms from one scene of clunky exposition to the next....amateurish action sequences....hopelessly out of whack, changing chronology so it can climax with a depressingly lame massive-army battle and conclude without much consequence....a stupid, sloppy film." Waltham Daily News Tribune

"The Golden Compass" is a hollow, tin-plated mess." Fort Collins Now

"....curiously sodden....hovers somewhere between the loopy and the lugubrious....Some of this qualifies as spectacle, but very little of it takes hold as organic wonder....a film that knows what it's against...but never quite figures out a way to voice what it's for....not very enthralling....a fantasy that leaves you chattering about particles." Rating: C

"The unedifying truth about this year’s winter’s tale is how dismal it looks....fails to match the magic of the oxygen for the imagination....a fatal lack of real drama" Entertainment Times

"A disappointing adaptation of the fantasy epic.....The Golden Compass finally arrives in cinemas this week. But can it live up to the expectation and anticipation surrounding it? The answer, in a word, is no....As for the ending, it's a complete and utter shambles....The result is a film with moments of dramatic and visual splendour, but one that's never quite the sum of its parts....merely a passable fantasy flick that pales in comparison to the epics it apes."

"....uninspired direction and uneven technical execution....Weitz's conception and pedestrian execution are problematic....lacks a sense of magic and wonder." Emanuel Levy of Rotten Tomatoes

"This odds and ends manic mix of snippets dredged from sci-fi parallel universes, supernatural substance abuse, cranky clerics, worrisome wizards, rowdy retro 19th century street urchins, persecuted free thinkers, goth grownup child abusers and computer-generated homicidal polar bear throat slashers, is less likely to dazzle the senses than exhaust minds of all ages." News Blaze

"....strictly tinny storytelling...." Boxoffice

"....drags this would-be blockbuster down to the depths of dullness....writer-director Chris Weitz crams his story full of magical terms and concepts with a rapidity that leaves things confusing and thus meaningless....featureless and forgettable action sequences...." Slant Magazine

There are lots more along the same lines. The interesting thing is that none of the reviewers understands the reason WHY it is so boring. They think it's bad direction, to much going on ("too many notes"?), or whatever, when the real reason is that godless fantasy worlds are inherently boring because, underneath all the confetti and glitter, there's nobody home.

The Golden Compass - A Prediction

According to, Magorium moved down from number 10 to number 12 in receipts last weekend, and it's only 3 weeks into its release. Unfortunately, I doubt that anyone will figure out that the reason it is so boring is that a fantasy world where there is no God is inherently boring and unsatisfying. Because the Golden Compass (like the Polar Express and so many others) suffers from the same defect, I will go out on a limb and predict that, after a reasonably strong start, it will not break any records. Dust worship (which is apparently the "theology" of the Golden Compass) is just not very credible or very interesting, no matter how much computerized gimcrackery you surround it with.

Before Christ, the best of the pagan world was languishing in jaded boredom, for all its extravagant tales of couplings between humans and the gods who appeared to them as beasts, and of sea monsters, nymphs, fauns, satyrs, and other "magical" stuff, until the astounding truth that the universe was made by a loving God, lost in sin, and personally rescued by its creator in a mysterious and awesome act of sacrifice burst upon it. All the real adventure stories, all the real romances, and all the real dramas, are based on this truth--that heaven and earth are engaged in an epic struggle with eternal consequences, that heaven has already won, but that each person alive is still free to choose which side to join, and everything hangs on that choice. Once you reject that truth, what could possibly be very interesting?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advice from a Sadder But Wiser Parent

I saw this a while back at Teresa Tomeo's website, where Father Bugarin is listed as a spiritual director, and have used it as a guide to raising my own children.

Some Advice from a Parishioner

For the last few years I (Fr. Bugarin) have published an anonymous letter I received from a parishioner during Lent in 2005. Usually I toss anonymous letters right away but this one escaped that fatal ending.

“Fr. Bugarin, I was very moved by your homily on Sunday, February 13, 2005, regarding Hell, Satan, and the response of faithful people to temptation. I am the father of an adult son and daughter, and it pains me to think of the mistakes my wife and I made in raising our children. We thought we had a clever, well thought out solution to the dangers and evils of the world, but instead we were victims of our over estimation of our own perceived abilities and power. In so doing we neglected the saving power and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Knowing the evils and temptations of our world, my wife and I sought to shield our children through endless activity. Like many other parents, we got our son involved in hockey and our daughter in dance; our goal was to keep our children busy and thus not give them a chance to get in trouble. However, I now realize that in engaging in a futile attempt to shield our children from battle with the Devil we were instead merely failing to equip our children for their inevitable battles with Satan. We attempted a human solution to a spiritual problem, and our human limitations and inadequacies resulted in failure. We failed to fill our children with Christ, and instead left a vacuum too easily exploited by Satan.

“In focusing our children on endless activity we created selfish, self-centered children. By failing to involve them in Catholic charitable works we taught them to believe they were the centers of their own universes. We replaced rosaries, adoration and bible study with ice time, games and recitals. We missed Sunday masses for tournaments and catechism for performances, and we rationalized it by asserting that it was ‘for the best.’ How wrong we were.

“Today, both of our children have left the Church. Our daughter is living with a man and has had an abortion; our son has experimented with drugs and regards the Church with contempt and cynicism. Our first priority should have been to pass on the faith and to teach trust in the Lord; instead, we relied on our human intellect and put our faith in schemes of this world.

“If I could only go back in time I’d make every Sunday mass as a family, lead my family in a weekly rosary, take my children to pray in front of an abortion clinic, lead them in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and help them volunteer at a soup kitchen. For despite our best efforts and intentions there still were times my children were alone and lonely, tired and weak, hungry and desirous. I failed to anticipate and prepare my children for those inevitable times of temptation, and the Devil had been patiently waiting.

“Father, please print my letter in the church paper. If it will serve as a warning to at least one family it may help them to avoid the pain and regret my wife and I have experienced.

An Anonymous St. Joan of Arc Parishioner.”

The Bible and Source Criticism - The JEDP Boondoggle

As I understand it, the Church does not require anyone to believe the JEDP theory or any of its many "source criticism" variants or developments. Neither has the Church condemned these theories in general, as long as they are consistent with Church teaching about the nature of scripture.

Certainly, many people believe that many of the theories of source critics are mistaken. After all, many of them are contradictory and mutually exclusive. Some of them are downright goofy, as anyone knows who has ever picked up a wretched piece of nonsense called "The Book of J" that was a best seller several years ago. In addition, many believe that the usefulness of source criticism for understanding and applying scripture is limited. However, I think it would be hard to deny that the books of scripture in the form they have come down to us incorporate earlier documents and that the human authors of scripture sometimes used earlier documentary and sources, as well as oral tradition. Scripture refers to such sources. One example is at the beginning of 2 Maccabees (2 Macc. 2:23). Recognizing these facts does not undermine faith. One can certainly be orthodox and hold many theories of the source critics, including the JEDP theory.

On the other hand, no one is required to accept the myriad, and often contradictory, specific source theories of particular theologians or groups of theologians. It is certainly true that many of the proponents of these theories have taught things that are contrary to revealed truth and that some did not believe in God, in miracles, or in the divinity of Christ, for example. Moreover, many half educated people who learn a tiny bit about source criticism come away with the belief that that the critics have "debunked" the Bible. Therefore, Christians should not accept such theories uncritically, and should be wary of the error that is often taught along with them.

One of my main problems with the whole enterprise of source criticism is that it diverts one's attention from what God is saying to us to often fruitless speculations about exactly how He got it down in writing. There are few things sadder than some poor bloke who goes to a Bible study so he can know God's word better and who comes away spouting a lot of half understood form criticism and thinking that, as a result, he has made spiritual progress.

It is as if I sent you a letter telling you how to find a great treasure and, instead of using it to find the treasure, you sat there theorizing about where I got the stamp. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with philately; it's just that there are more important things to do!

There are many excellent and reliable guides explaining how we can most correctly and profitably read, understand, and apply scripture, not least of which is in the Catechism. It's astonishing how many Catholic scripture study groups seem to lack any interest in studying them. I went to one such scripure study group for a few years that had been in operation for decades, that had never studied any of the relevant teaching documents, and that could not be convinced to do so (at least by me). It was saddening.

Still Pottering Around with Harry Potter

The release of the Golden Compass movie again brings Harry Potter to mind.

I have been vacillating about the Harry Potter books and movies for several years now, having gone from the "harmless entertainment" camp to the "tool of the enemy" camp to the "suspect, at a minimum" camp. The following was written in my "tool of the enemy" phase. Upon rereading, it seems to make more sense than the others.

Defenders of the Potter books, especially Catholics or other christians, often say things like :

"The Potter books promote sound values like friendship, courage, and loyalty."


"There IS darkness and scariness in THIS world, and while I won't introduce my children to it before they're already aware of it, I'm not going to try to present life as all sweetness and light, either. "

The question is whether magic is one of those "dark and scary," as well as sinful, things. If so, there is no excuse to give our children books that glorify it or its practitioners, regardless of whether there are other more positive messages in them as well. If the magic in the Potter books is not sinful, would someone please explain to me why the condemnations of magic that are found in scripture and the Catechism do not apply to it?

For example:

"All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity."

-- Catechism 2117

"[9]When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. [10] There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, [11] or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. [12] For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you."

-- Deuteronomy Chapter 18

Anyone who wants a really intelligent discussion of this subject, and the reasons why some works of fantasy, like Harry Potter, are harmful while others, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia books, are not, should read a book called Landscape with Dragons, by Michael O'Brien, a leading Catholic writer of imaginative fiction, notably the Children of the Last Days series, which began with the publication of Father Elijah. While O'Brien's book was published too early to talk specifically about the Potter books, it is not hard to see how what he says applies to them. In fact, the Potter craze was essentially predicted by O'Brien and confirms what he says. O'Brien later wrote an article about the Potter books that is well worth reading.

Steve Wood of, and the host of the Faith and Family show on EWTN, was an early crusader against the Potter books, which he believes to be a great danger to children.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Golden Compass - A Warning, Not a Review

Anyone who has been paying attention to children's culture over the past few decades has noticed that there are many authors of children's books, some of them with considerable talent, who have undertaken the mission of attacking Christianity, Christian morality and, in particular, the Catholic Church. Some of them admit it, others dissemble, and others may not be fully aware of the extent to which their New Age, materialistic, or other nonchristian or anticatholic beliefs permeate their work.

It should not be surprising that many, including the authors of books, should take issue with our faith. Our savior plainly told us that the world would hate us. What is surprising, to me at least, is the extent to which many Catholics and other Christians are appear to be in denial about this conflict. Every time some new covert, or not so covert, attack on the faith is unleashed by the worldly media, we seem to see two camps emerge, one saying that the book, movie, or other work in question is to be shunned, and the other saying that they can see no harm in it or that it is a positive good.

The latest example of this is the Golden Compass, a big-budget movie from Newline Cinema that is due to open in theaters this week. The Golden Compass is based on the first book of a trilogy by Philip Pullman, a crusading atheist who said in one interview that "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief" (Washington Post, February 19, 2001) and in another that "[m]y books are about killing God." (Sidney Morning Post, December 13, 2003). While I have not read the books, by all accounts the villains in the story are all religious figures associated with a falsified parody of the Catholic church and, in the end, God is in fact killed. No matter, He is a fraud, anyway, according to the Mr Pullman. The director of the movie, Chris Weitz, told that New York Times in an article published on December 2, 2007 that he was motivated to take the assignment in part because he is "one of those people who think of them not just as fantasy novels but as exceptional works of the intellect.”

In spite of all this evidence of the author's and the filmmakers' hostile intent, and the unhealthy thrust of the series, it was depressingly predictable that the usual two camps have emerged among Catholics, one of which, exemplified by the William Donohue and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, strongly condemns the movie, and the other, apparently including the film office of the United States Catholic Bishops, in a review co-authored by Harry Forbes, the head of the office, approving of it (with a rating of A-II, for "adolescents and up").

I have mixed feelings about Mr Donahue. On the one hand, I am glad that someone is prepared to cry "foul" when the need arises, but on the other, he sometimes appears to have a greater supply of heat than light. Yet, Mr Donahue's light seems positively blinding compared with the cimmerian darkness where Mr Forbes and his film office seem to dwell. Mr Forbes was the man who published the favorable review and rating on behalf of the bishops' film office of Brokeback Mountain that had to be withdrawn after it drew a storm of protest. Why he hasn't been replaced with a first rate Catholic film reviewer like Steven Greydanus is beyond me.

In his apologium for the film, Mr Forbes argues that, considered apart from the books upon which it is based, it is possible to put an innocent interpretation on at least some of its elements. Even if that were so (and I don't intend to give the price of my admission to the makers to find out for sure), critics like Mr Donahue would argue that Mr Forbes' review missed the point that the movie, like the first book in the series, is bait for the rest, in which the true thrust of the trilogy is revealed.

I am generally sceptical of such claims of malicious plots. However, in this case, the movie's director, Mr Weitz, when asked whether the antireligious elements of the books had been deliberately toned down in the first movie, said that "[t]he aim is to put in the elements we need to make this movie a hit, so that we can be much less compromising in how the second and third books are shot.” Can't say we weren't warned. I got a letter several weeks ago from a Catholic mother I know and respect that amplifies the grounds for concern, part of which I have pasted below.

So, there you have it, a film by an author and director whose avowed intent is to undermine the faith, being both attacked and defended by people claiming to represent Catholic opinion. It seems to me that to support this film financially, or to expose our children to it, is morally wrong, though I suspect that the numbers of people who decide whether or not to go based on moral grounds unfortunately will be few. However, I am hopeful that, like other movies that have attempted to ape Christian fantasy like that of C.S. Lewis, but without the christianity that is at the heart of the appeal of such works, this movie will prove to be an empty shell that has them staying away in droves simply because it proves to be a big, expensive, bore.


Fwd: The Golden Compass
From: [sender]
To: Vincent DiCarlo
Date: 10/27/07 08:33 am

Dear Friends,

...I typically don't just dismiss books without having at least some first-hand knowledge of them. Also, I may be a bit more "liberal" than many Christian parents in terms of what I tolerate & allow my children to be exposed to (e.g., we're huge Harry Potter fans - I trust my kid's foundation in the faith is solid enough that they are able to discern for themselves what is consistent with Christianity and what is "chaff").

Anyway....[w]e went on a long road trip about five years ago & in an effort to make the ride bearable, we checked out The Golden Compass on tape from the public library. It was an incredibly well crafted story; the author is especially talented and we were easily drawn into the his intriguing tale - the whole family was caught up in this story, from our then 10 year-old to my husband & I. One could even say we were seduced by this story, it was so well done.

However, we started to detect some very disturbing themes as the plot unfolded; it's not only the veiled attacks against Christianity but against ALL adult authority (religion, the state, parents) that is cleverly woven into this tale. Any immature person, including "adults" who are not solidly grounded in their beliefs can easily be led into grave, soul- killing error by this VERY seductive tale.

Fortunately, we have the kind of family relationship that allowed us to discuss & "debrief" our children after we realized how evil this story really is; it actually became a great teaching tool, not only about why the messages in the book are at odds with our beliefs but also about how crafty and seductive evil can be - even when one has a strong faith and "knows" better!

Please understand, I am not a "book banner"; I whole-heartedly support freedom of expression - BUT this one is beyond the pale and I can't urge caring parents enough to approach this with extreme caution.

[a Catholic Mom]

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium

All six of us (two adults and children ages 10-17) saw this latest release from Walden Media yesterday, and we were all disappointed.

I spent most of my time in the theater trying to figure out why a movie that seemed to have so much going for it could seem so empty. I think the reason is the folks at Walden media, or at least the ones responsible for this movie, don't actually believe in God. Instead, they believe in believing. In fact, the publicity for the movie says "you've got to believe it to see it." If you believe (in yourself, in others, in magic--it doesn't seem to matter), apparently you get to see the animated toys, confetti, and glittery lights. The problem is, if that's all there is, it isn't nearly enough.

Emblematic of the spiritual tone-deafness of this film are two incidents that seemed to trivialize Christianity (and Judaism for that matter). In one, Mr Magorium is asked about why his business records show that he is doing business with imaginary characters like the King of Planet Yahweh. Mr. Magorium replies, "Oh, he's not imaginary. He was never a king, and Planet Yahweh doesn't exist, but he's real." What exactly does he mean? "Yes, Virginia, there is a God," but only in our hearts and minds, like Santa Claus? I found this use of God's proper name offensive, and I can imagine that a lot of other people, especially including Orthodox Jews, feel the same way.

In another telling scene, when a boy explains that Magorium is going to die by saying that he's "going to heaven," Magorium responds to the effect that he's either going there, or the Happy Hunting Grounds, or Shangri-la, or "I may return as a bumblebee." In other words, it doesn't really matter. If it doesn't matter whether we go to heaven or come back as bumblebees, I'd like to know what does.

The Miracle Maker

I have seen a LOT of movies based on the gospels, and was not expecting to be so touched by one that was done with puppets. There's something about the animations, vocal performances, music, and selections that makes the characters, including our Lord, seem more like real people than in other versions. I don't understand it; but it's remarkable. My kids loved it, too.

The Miracle Maker is the movie version of the gospel that I sent to all my nieces and nephews.

The Passion of the Christ

Should you see it? This is only the best movie ever made about the most important event that ever happened. How can you fail to see it?

Now available on a collector's DVD that has both the original R rated theatrical release and version that has been edited down by the film's creators and been rated PG-13.

Romeo & Juliet by Zeffirelli

One of the most overrated movies of all time, the PG version generally available on DVD is the 1973 remake, not the 1968 release. According to today's rating standards, I think this movie would be rated PG-13 or R. In any case, it's not something I'd want to show to 13 to 15 year olds, or any susceptible young people already being bombarded by the "if the feeling is strong, it can't be wrong" message from all sides.

It's been a while since I read the play, but the movie version makes it clear that the young lovers spend a night in fornication before their "marriage." After the couple's secret marriage by Friar Laurence, there's also an extended nude "morning after" bedroom scene and, at the end of the movie, the swelling violins seem to approve their suicides as tragic, but essentially noble and admirable, acts.

Artistically, I found the movie a bit sappy. The couple sometimes seemed like modern kids trapped in Shakespeare's world and unable to make sense of the times and sensibilities that his words reflect, and attempting to impose a modern realist theatrical technique on an Elizabethan play that was written a few hundred years before Chekhov or Stanislavsky were born. This may be one reason why so many of Shakespeare's words were left out of the film, and why bedroom, fighting, dance, crying, and other wordless or almost wordless scenes were so drawn out.

Fiddler on the Roof

While there's a lot to like in this movie, which is one of the best film adaptations of a broadway musical ever done, it has its troubling side. The central theme of both the show and the movie is, as the opening song indicates, the role of tradition in the lives of the villagers, and its message is that tradition must yield to newer ways.

The concept of "tradition" that is the theme of this show is apparently simply "the way things have always been done." They have no real connection with moral or ontological truths, and the attempts to answer questions about why traditional ways exist are played for laughs, indicating that they are not meant to be taken seriously. This kind of tradition (mere custom) is opposed to the new ways of doing things, which are equally unexamined.

So, one kind of mindless conformity (to the past) is simply replaced with another kind of mindless conformity (to the present), which is assumed without justification to be better or more practical. Now, if we are going to be mindlessly conformist, it's probably a lot better idea to stick mindlessly with what is tried and true than mindlessly to follow fads that are new and untried or, in the case of the practice of marriage based on infatuation, something that has been tried and found disastrous.

However, there is a better choice. We can try to base our choices on who we really are, who God really is, why we are here, where we are going, and what will help us to achieve our true purpose in life. This is an approach that does not seem to exist in the world of "Fiddler," and it is the reason I think the movie is charming but perhaps morally harmful. It encourages one of the most besetting vices of our age--a mindless reliance on what is new and what feels good to make choices that have profound consequences.

Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain is the best movie musical ever made. A pure joy. One could go on and on recalling gloriously funny, or just glorious, passages, but if by some chance you have not yet seen it, I don't want to diminish the pleasure of seeing them fresh for yourself for the first time. That first viewing is a rare treat you can only have once, though this is a movie you can enjoy many, many times, and to which you can introduce others with great pleasure.

A Man for All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons is one of the ten best movies ever made, and should be seen by every young person, and especially every young man, some time between his 14th and 16th birthdays. The movie's great theme is personal integrity, and the location of the lines that one must not cross at peril of losing his soul. If these questions, which pressed so hard on St Thomas More, have never troubled you, you will probably not like the film, in spite of its brilliant performances, and a portrayal of life near the powerful that is so realistic that it takes the breath away.

Movie Reviews for Catholic Families

Far and away my favorite source for film reviews is Steven Greydanus' website at You owe it to yourself to go over there. He does the most intelligent, literate, perceptive, and morally informed Catholic movie reviews I've ever seen. He's a regular reviewer for National Catholic Register. Unfortunately, there are many films that he does not review. Other useful sites for movie reviews are: Intelligent, perceptive, reviews with a sense of humor, and enough specific information for you to make your own decisions. Well organized and helpful. Fairly specific information about possibly objectionable content. Helpful reviews and ratings.

For my personal list of the best movies of all time, go to

For teens, I would especially recommend A Man for All Seasons, To Kill a Mockingbird, On the Waterfront, West Side Story, Remember the Titans, Singin' in the Rain, Chariots of Fire, Breaking Away, or Amazing Grace.

For kids, any of the Veggie Tales, and the The Miracle Maker.