What does “The Golden Compass” say about God and religion?

Posted on November 29, 2007 at 10:48 am

The Catholic League says that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass) “bash Christianity and promote atheism.” It has called on its members to boycott the film version of the first of the books. According to AP, “the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting gave the film, which is rated PG-13, a warm review. The film is not blatantly anti-Catholic but a ‘generalized rejection of authoritarianism.'”
Here at Beliefnet, Idol Chatter blogger Donna Freitas says that the books are a “stunning retelling of salvation.” She is co-author of Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman’s Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials. Her exclusive interview with Pullman is fascinating, and should be viewed by anyone who has concerns about the movie’s appropriateness.
I will be posting my review of the film next week. In the meantime, I welcome comments and questions.

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Jim Judy’s Screenit.com

Posted on November 28, 2007 at 10:55 pm

I was delighted to see my friend Jim Judy and his screenit.com website interviewed by my friend Arch Campbell on the ABC station in Washington, DC. (Be patient — there is a brief commercial before the interview clip.) Jim’s site does a terrific job providing parents with detailed information about every possible category of potential concern. I am a long-time subscriber and I highly recommend it.

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Books Into Movies

Posted on October 3, 2007 at 10:14 pm

I’ve seen four movies based on books in the past week and all made me think about the perils of adapting novels to the screen. I once heard Peter Hedges speak about the difference between plays, novels, and movies. His novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, was adapted into a fine movie by Lasse Hallström, and he described the experience as a master class in understanding the difference between print and film. He said that novels are about what people think and feel, plays are about what they say, and movies are about showing what the characters think and feel, most often without saying anything.
I did not think much of the book The Jane Austen Book Club. If any other author’s name was in the title, it would not have been a best-seller. The movie version is far better, genuinely enjoyable. Feast of Love and O Jerusalem did not live up to their source material. The Dark is Rising, The book that inspired “The Seeker” was so diluted in the final script that it had the same relaitonship to the source material that a homeopathic remedy has to its active ingredient. And the result was less efficacious.
It is not just about the acting. “The Jane Austen Book Club” has first class actors who bring more subtlety and complexity and life to the characters than the author ever did, but “Feast of Love” has Morgan Freeman, Jane Alexander, and Greg Kinnear, who all do the best they can but never make the relationships on screen feel immediate or alive. It just has to do with showing, not telling, and “The Jane Austen Book Club” manages that act of alchemy where the others fail.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

‘Sleuth’ vs. ‘Sleuth’ and Twin vs. Twin

Posted on August 15, 2007 at 10:31 pm



This morning I saw the remake of “Sleuth.” Like the original, it stars Michael Caine, but this time he plays the role of the older man, a mystery writer whose visit from his wife’s young, handsome lover turns into a battle of wits and power. In 1974, the older man was played by Laurence Olivier. In 2007, the younger man is played by Jude Law, took over another of Caine’s iconic roles in “Alfie.” The original was an entertaining potboiler with one of theater and movie history’s cleverest surprises (incomprehensibly omitted from the new version). In 2007, it gets a high literary sheen with a new screenply by Harold Pinter and direction, in between Shakespeare adaptations, from Kenneth Branaugh.

The play was written by Anthony Shaffer, identical twin brother of Peter Shaffer, who wrote “Equus” and “Amadeus.” The themes of competition, identity, and duality run through the work of both brothers. I think their story would make quite a movie.


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Inappropriate Themes in ‘Ratatouille’ and ‘Nancy Drew?’

Posted on June 11, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Two movies for kids coming out this month devote a significant amount of story-telling time to plot twists involving secret out-of-wedlock children whose fathers were never told that they existed. One is the PG “Nancy Drew” and the other is the G-rated “Ratatouille.” Is there anyone who thinks that this is an appropriate storyline for movies marketed for children? Is there anyone out there who looks forward to questions from a six-year-old about what a DNA test is for or how a father could be surprised to find out that he has a grown-up child or why a mother would want to keep such a secret?
It is not as though either of these is a sensitive treatment of a subject that may be of interest or concern to children living in a world of blended families and reproductive technology. In both cases, they are tossed into the plot more for convenience than for the expression of art or creativity. If the film-makers could not show some effort in designing a plot with more imagination, they could have taken the time to think about finding a plot with more resonance for children.

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