Fantasy epic

The Golden Compass

, which has already drawn the ire of the Catholic League, is also receiving a big thumbs-down from the Vatican.

In an editorial in its Wednesday issue, the Vatican's official daily paper, l'Osservatore Romano, voiced hope that

Compass

' anemic performance at the box office would lead New Line to kill its plan to film the rest of a trilogy based on novelist

Philip Pullman

's

His Dark Materials

book series.

The Vatican paper called

Compass

"the most anti-Christmas film possible," saying any "honest" viewer would find the flick "devoid of any particular emotion apart from a great chill."

But its harshest words were reserved for Pullman, whose

Dark Materials

novels present a dystopia where the church is a corrupt, power-hungry, godless institution.

"In Pullman's world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events," the editorial read. "When God is pushed off the horizon, everything is made smaller, sadder, colder and less human."

Denzel spreads cheer, debate

Denzel Washington

is a firm believer in the power of proper debate - and the necessity to properly learn how to debate properly.

The actor-director's latest film,

The Great Debaters

, is about the debate team at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, which became legendary in the 1930s for its prowess. Washington, 52, stars as poet

Melvin Tolson

, who led the all-black college's debate squad.

Trouble is, Wiley no longer has a debate team, a fact that Washington may have discovered when he went there last week to screen

The Great Debaters

.

According to the college, Washington has solved that problem by donating $1 mil to Wiley to reestablish its debate team.

The Great Debaters

opens Christmas Day.

Grammy Hall of Fame

The Recording Academy has chosen 70 songs to be inducted to its Grammy Hall of Fame, adding them to a list of immortalized songs that now comprises 798 titles.

This year's inductees include

Michael Jackson

's "Thriller,"

the

Mamas & the Papas

' "Monday Monday," the

Beatles

' "Help!,"

Lynyrd Skynyrd

's "Free Bird," and

Marian Anderson

's gospel song "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

Classical pieces to be inducted include

Arturo Toscanini

's 1953

Verdi: Otello

and

Otto Klemperer

's 1963

Mahler: Symphony No. 2

.

"The Grammy Hall of Fame is one of the academy's most prized endeavors, spotlighting recorded musical masterpieces that have significantly impacted our musical history," said academy president

Neil Portnow

. "This year's inductees span nine decades and represent a diverse array of genres from classical and show tunes to blues, jazz and rock-and-roll."

Mirren: Action babe

Helen Mirren

, best known for her Oscar-winning performance as Elizabeth II in

The Queen

, and most beloved for her portrayal of the intense, tortured cop Jane Tennyson in the cerebral TV drama

Prime Suspect

, is proud to have become a latter-day action hero.

The 62-year-old Brit thesp tells the Associated Press she did all her own stunts in her new film, the big-budget action thriller

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

.

Asked why she'd possibly consider

Treasure

, Mirren laughed. "Why do something as fun as this," she said, "why do something as exciting as this, why on Earth do something as popular as this, why do something as well-budgeted as this?"

Mirren said she did the film not as some kind of career move, but to have a bit of fun.

Contact "SideShow" at sideshow@phillynews.com.

This column contains information from Inquirer wire services.