I took in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 this week for Aleteia and I have to admit it left me conflicted. My inner movie critic kept telling me I was seeing a bad film, but that other part of me who just watches movies for entertainment was having too much of a good time to listen. Oh well, that’s the way it goes sometimes. Heck, even Spidey himself has trouble mixing business with pleasure when he goes to the movies…
Okay, so how many of my fellow comic book geeks out there were doing the same thing I was during this short, which was yelling at the monitor, “It’s Goblin, not Glob! By all that’s holy, quit calling him the Green Glob!” Still, even though the show contained such errors, I remember back when I would watch an entire episode of The Electric Company just in the hope that it would be one of the ones with a Spidey’s Super Stories in it. What can I say? We couldn’t be too picky back in the days before moviemakers determined they could make millions off of comic book characters and started churning out special effects spectaculars like The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Of course, now that they know they can make millions, that brings with it some problems of its own. It’s well known that these last two Amazing Spider-Man movies only exist because Sam Raimi didn’t want to make a Spider-Man 4 and Sony had to produce something if they wanted to keep the film rights to the character. So, the first Amazing Spider-Man was pretty much a rushed cash grab, and boy does it show. And while Part 2 is a marked improvement, it still has some extraneous material that exists only to set up future cash cow motion pictures involving spin-off characters, and those scenes hurt the movie artistically.
Believe it or not, of all people, Pope Pius XII had a problem with this kind of approach to filmmaking. In his 1957 encyclical entitled Miranda Prorsus (On the Communication Fields: Movies, Television, and Radio), he explained it this way…
“Individual citizens should be permitted to contribute, according to their abilities, to the enrichment of their own and others' intellectual and spiritual life by the use of these means of communication. But altogether contrary to Christian teaching and the primary end of these media is the purpose and intent of those who would use these inventions solely to advance and advertise political matters or to further their economic purposes, and thus treat this noble cause as if it were solely a business venture.”
That’s right, His Holiness believed that movies should never be made only as a cash grab because such an approach subverts the art form’s end purpose. In fact, the notion that he considered movies, like so many other things in creation, to have an end purpose, is interesting in and of itself.
“This should be the primary aim of motion pictures, radio, and television: to serve truth and virtue. They should serve the spread of truth so that the bonds between peoples will be made closer, so that men will have better mutual understanding and will assist one another in time of crisis, and, finally so that there will be genuine cooperation between public authority and individual citizens. To serve truth means more than simply to refrain entirely from falsehood, lies, and deceit; it means shunning everything that can encourage a way of life and action that is false, imperfect, or harmful to others. But above all let the truths that have been given us by God's revelation be held sacred and inviolable. Rather, these noble means of communication should be directed particularly to this end: that they might spread the teachings of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ, "and instill into the minds of men that Christian truth which alone can provide men with the strength from above which will enable them, with calmness and courage, to overcome the perils of this present age, and to endure its trials." But it is not enough that these new inventions serve truth; they must also perfect human life and morals. They can contribute to this end in three ways which We intend to discuss: by announcing the news; by educating; by entertaining.”
For obvious reasons around these parts, we think it’s important to point out that last sentence where the Pope made it clear that movies made simply to function as entertainment can still serve truth, virtue, and the perfection of morals. That’s always been our philosophy both here and over at Aleteia, but it sure is nice when one of the guys in the big hats backs it up.