Times Staff Writer

The people who did such a splendid job of transferring David Macaulay’s book “Castle” to television in 1983 are back again tonight with another of his works, “Cathedral” (8 p.m. on Channels 28, 15 and 24, and 9 p.m. on Channel 50).

It’s an equally absorbing look at the incredible engineering skills and craftsmanship that went into the construction of France’s famous Gothic cathedrals more than 700 years ago.

“Even to our eyes, which have seen towering skyscrapers, indoor stadiums, jumbo jets and space shuttles, Gothic cathedrals still inspire awe,” Macaulay says at the outset of the program. Moreover, he adds, they have proven as durable as they have beautiful--they are still being used for their original purpose.

Like “Castle,” “Cathedral” combines current film footage of the magnificent structures--including Notre-Dame de Paris, Chartres, Bourges and Amiens--with animated sequences illustrating how such buildings were erected.


The animation is particularly effective here, creating characters and a story that give a human dimension to the information being presented. It especially underscores the fact that these cathedrals were built over long periods of time--often five decades or more.

Macaulay, who co-hosts the hourlong program with Caroline Berg, goes well beyond the mechanics of the architecture to give viewers a sense of the medieval culture that spawned it.

The finished cathedral obviously was a testament to the importance of religion in 13th-Century France, he notes, but it also functioned as a regional headquarters for the church, as a vital link to the surrounding area’s economic well-being and, with its abundant stained-glass windows and detailed sculptures, as a “three-dimensional book in religious instruction.”

“Cathedral” was written and produced by Mark Olshaker and Larry Klein for Washington-based Unicorn Projects, Inc., which also produced “Castle” and, happily, is at work on another Macaulay adaptation, “Pyramid.” Derek Jacobi narrates the animated sequences.