The John Paul Gravy Train Chugs Along
[S]ome two hours after John Paul II's death, Lorenzo Minoli, a producer of 2000's ''Jesus" miniseries, looked out his window overlooking the Vatican, phoned his partner Judd Parkin, and said, ''Let's do it."To be honest, it's surprising that these movies -- despite being in the can -- were not shown during the November Sweeps period, which ends Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Italian production house Lux Vide, which had worked with Minoli and Parkin on ''Jesus," was nursing an idea for a pope film of its own.
Eight months later -- lightning-speed, in filmmaking terms -- TV is set to unroll two dramatizations of the pope's life, appearing within days of each other on competing networks. Minoli and Parkin's ''Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II," airs on ABC on Thursday. The Lux Vide version, the miniseries ''Pope John Paul II," starts next Sunday on CBS and continues the following Wednesday.
Then again, that's a hopeful sign, one which indicates that it wasn't a complete pander for money-and-ratings. Or, alternatively, the biopics were deemed too controversial, which means that the decision still would've been dictated by money-and-ratings.
However, if the Networks really want to do all this evangelism about how wonderful the late Pope was, wouldn't it be nice if they put their money where their mouth is and donated some of that lucrative ad revenue to the Holy See's relief efforts which meant so much to John Paul and enabled him to send some reassurance and help to a lot of suffering places in the world?
On network TV, competition is its own sort of religion.
In truth, the dueling pope movies are strikingly different in scope, theme, and feel. ABC's ''Have No Fear," a two-hour movie, is a psychological take on the pontiff's life, focusing on the loss of his mother and his decision to remain pope despite his increasing frailty. This Karol Wojtyla is pious from the start -- as a little boy, he volunteers to pray with his sick mother -- but feels guilt over his indifference to slain San Salvador archbishop Oscar Romero. He is played by German-born Thomas Kretschmann from teenagehood to heavily-made-up old age.CBS's four-hour miniseries ''Pope John Paul II," written and directed by TV film veteran John Kent Harrison, tells a broader story about late-20th-century history and geopolitics, seen through the eyes of an extra-intelligent pope. This Wojtyla is a reluctant world player, surprised as anyone when he is named bishop of Krakow, and not above being the butt of some gentle comic relief. He is played by British actor Cary Elwes until the moment he takes over as pope, when he miraculously turns into Jon Voight.
I'm just sayin'.
One awkward nugget is the scene, I believe it's from the ABC movie, where the frail John Paul is told: "Holy Father, we have received new information about sexual abuse of children by American priests." Good God.
And just so you know, the TV-types won't be the only people making buckos off of Wojtyla Nostalgia this Christmas season. Peggy Noonan went on CNN yesterday to plug her new book, "John Paul the Great" -- which, from her interview, sounds like it should be called, "What John Paul II Means To Me."
Why?! Why would I, a simpleton consumer, want to know what John Paul means to Peggy Noonan? (To be honest, even MoDo's "Are Men Necessary?" hits closer to home. Not to mention the fact that I simply adore her.)
Elia Toaff? Now that's a "JP changed my life" story I'd like to read. Dziwisz, of course, is the gold standard in the department -- when you've lived with the man for forty years, that's a story worth reading. But Peggy Noonan? Um, no thanks. Or she simply could've put it on a blog so it could be skimmed for free. Anything else just reeks of self-aggrandizing weirdness.
If this is what can masquerade as a book, writing my own tome in the near future will be a cakewalk.