Famed director Ron Howard recently published an article boldly claiming that his upcoming movie “Angels & Demons,” based on Dan Brown’s novel, is not anti-Catholic. His article, Angels & Demons: It's A Thriller, Not A Crusade was published by the Huffington Post… but don’t laugh too fast. A rarity in the Huffy, this article is serious, and should not be ignored.
In his article, Mr. Howard goes after William Donohue for “paint(ing) me and the movie I directed, “Angels & Demons,” as anti-Catholic.”
Let me be clear: neither I nor Angels & Demons are anti-Catholic. And let me be a little controversial: I believe Catholics, including most in the hierarchy of the Church, will enjoy the movie for what it is: an exciting mystery set in the awe-inspiring beauty of Rome. After all, in Angels & Demons, Professor Robert Langdon teams up with the Catholic Church to thwart a vicious attack against the Vatican. What, exactly, is anti-Catholic about that?
Mr. Howard sounds sincere. In his favor, it has to be said that hardly anyone can accuse him of systematic anti-Catholicism after making “Cinderella Man.” If anything, he will never be forgotten by Catholics for that movie.
But despite his claims of good intentions, Mr. Howard is either too naïve or in too big of a hurry to make a quick buck with “Angels & Demons.”
Indeed, he claims that:
Mr. Donohue's booklet accuses us of lying when our movie trailer says the Catholic Church ordered a brutal massacre to silence the Illuminati centuries ago. It would be a lie if we had ever suggested our movie is anything other than a work of fiction (if it were a documentary, our talk of massacres would have referenced the Inquisition or the Crusades).
And if fictional movies could never take liberties with reality, then there would have been no Ben-Hur, no Barabbas, The Robe, Gone With The Wind, or Titanic. Not to mention Splash!
I guess Mr. Donohue and I do have one thing in common: we both like to create fictional tales, as he has done with his silly and mean-spirited work of propaganda.
Let’s set aside the fact that Mr. Howard’s irony is cheesy and not funny. We can’t blame him for not being a good writer. He is just a movie director.
But he can’t claim innocence in picking the kind of fiction he does.
Yes, fiction can create “Ben Hur,” but it can also create the “Revenge of the Walking Zombies” and even worse… “Angels & Demons.” All fiction is not created equal.
Mr. Donohue's op-ed and booklet also suggest that we paint the Church as "anti-reason." There is plenty of debate over what the Church did or didn't do with Galileo, but I for one do recognize that the Church did much throughout the ages to encourage and preserve education, the arts and the sciences. Had Mr. Donohue and his allies waited to see Angels & Demons before criticizing it, they would have seen references to struggles within the Church between faith and science, but they would also have seen clear signs of support for the pursuit of science at the highest levels of the Vatican.
The claim that the movie should be seen before it is criticized doesn’t play well this time. Why? Because Dan Brown’s lousy novel is out there for anyone to catch the storyline at a glance.
Mr. Howard can claim that it is not him, but Dan Brown. Indeed, it is Brown. Brown’s anti-Catholicism is so rabid and baseless, that after he published “The Da Vinci Code” and was confronted with the real facts during an interview, he canceled all interviews for good. He has never confronted his critics, not only among Catholic apologists, but among historians.
And unfortunately, Mr. Howard is eating Brown’s anti-Catholicism with a big spoon, and thus, becomes a conduit for it.
And even worse, a conduit for major mediocrity: Let’s not forget that “Angels and Demons” was a literary disaster and a commercial failure written before “The Da Vinci Code.” Only after “The Da Vinci Code,” did Brown start repackaging and reselling it.
Mr. Howard continues:
Since Mr. Donohue has, in effect, smeared me by claiming I am smearing his Church, I want him to know this: I have respect for Catholics and their Church, and know they accomplish many good works throughout the world. And I believe Angels & Demons treats the Church with respect -- even a degree of reverence -- for its traditions and beliefs.
There is no reason to doubt Mr. Howard’s sincerity… but since he is sticking to Brown’s script, he can’t blame Bill Donohue for saying what he says. Anyone familiar with Brown’s writings can affirm without a doubt that he has turned anti-Catholicism into a money making machine. And it is sad that Mr. Howard’s admirable skills have been put to his service.
One last suggestion to Mr. Howard. Next time he wants to make a credible claim that he is not anti-Catholic, he should pick a better venue than the Huffington Post. Otherwise, he risks looking like a pacifist trying to make his point in Soldier of Fortune magazine.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.