"CNS reviewers always flag such content and, to the extent that any film or program positively endorses such behavior as either normative or acceptable, to that degree will the review and classification reflect the work's divergence from Catholic teaching," the organization's website reads.
Each film is given a classification unique to the CNS and distinct from the Motional Picture Association of America rating.
"These reviews offer insight on both the entertainment or artistic content and the moral values of a wide variety of media," said Chris Lee, general manager ofdeseretnews.com. "In terms of moral values, the reviews provide a unique rating system that gives guidance that supplements the MPAA's general rating system."
The classifications are "A-I" for general patronage, "A-II" for adults and adolescents, "A-III" for adults, "L" for limited adult audiences and "O" for morally offensive.
"While the MPAA's descriptions of content are necessarily brief, we try to be much more extensive in our analysis," Mulderig said.
As such, CNS reviews provide a perspective not found in many forums. For example, the review for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," named one of CNS's top 10 family films for 2001, takes care to note that the film "clearly delineate(s) between good and evil, but characters present a range of moral shading."
The reviews can also deviate from consensus. The film "Million Dollar Baby," which won an Academy Award for best picture in 2004 and is rated PG-13, was classified as "O" because it featured an "implicit endorsement of euthanasia — about which the MPAA is necessarily silent and which the secular press may treat in a way that diverges from Christian principles in general or specifically Catholic teaching in particular," Mulderig said.
Another example is "The Invention of Lying," which was flagged as O for atheism. Recently released PG-13 movies such as "The Other Guys" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" are also classified as morally offensive.
The recently released "Flipped" is reviewed as a "heartwarming coming-of-age-story," but while the movie is rated PG, the CNS gives it an A-III classification for "a handful of profane and crass expressions and scenes of family discord."
Conversely, "Nanny McPhee Returns," which also has a PG rating, is classified as A-I "with only some mildly gross barnyard humor and slapstick violence to give parents pause." Some R-rated films don't earn an "O" but rather the "highly restrictive" classification of "L" based on "the artistic intent of the film's creators," Mulderig said.
In addition to having thousands of movies in its archives, the Catholic News Service website has a list of the Vatican's Top 45 movies that includes everything from "Ben Hur" to "Chariots of Fire," and "Stagecoach" to "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Mulderig believes the reviews have attracted an audience outside Catholic circles, especially among parents.
"While certain issues — the use of contraception, for instance — may not necessarily be of concern to non-Catholic viewers, the far more frequent elements of violence, vigilantism, adulterous, premarital or nonmarital sexual activity, abortion, euthanasia, drug use, etc. are red flags for people of good will approaching films from many belief systems and perspectives," Mulderig said.
Gilbert says families and individuals across the country are looking for "common sense values" from media companies — one reason the Deseret News has chosen to make CNS reviews part of its entertainment offerings.
"Our decision to partner with the Catholic News service reflects an increasing desire to connect with other organizations and voices with whom we share common values," Gilbert said. "This current partnership is hardly a single-source solution, but rather the first in a series of efforts you will see in the coming months to focus on values in the media."
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