The future of faith on film

Jeff Fulcher has an interesting article at American Spectator about Fireproof and Hollywood’s untapped well of “traditionally-themed flicks” that would revitalize sinking ticket sales.

Fireproof is the third, and most profitable, film produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church ministry in Albany, Georgia. Its $7 million opening weekend launched the Christian movie into the box office Top 10 with Shia LeBouf’s techno blockbuster and Spike Lee’s newest joint.

Let’s check Entertainment Weekly’s review.

Fireproof is obviously critic-proof; though it hit theaters sans reviewer screenings, it had been heavily screened for pastors, who bought group tickets for their congregations, ensuring plenty of sold-out opening-weekend showings. Can hundreds of thousands of multiplex-invading Promise Keepers be wrong?

Huh. Imagine that. I wonder how much of the $7 million came from secular pockets. I suspect very little.

But, back to the review. The movie is about a hot tempered firefighter and his unhappy wife (both agnostic) who are having marital problems. He’s got a passion for internet pr0n and she’s got an affair on the back burner, or at least some heavy flirtation with a co-worker. Kirk Cameron plays the firefighter who gets encouragement from his father to try a 40 day regrow-the-love kind of program. Keeping in mind that this is a film made by ministers with an anti-divorce/pro-Jesus agenda, you can see how it’s going to end.

You probably can’t blame pastors moonlighting as moviemakers for wanting to pack their film with multiple messages, but the conversion subplot feels shoehorned into the more crucial marital doings, as if coming to Jesus might be just one of a long checklist of steps to restore sizzle to your marriage, right between buying roses and preparing a candlelit dinner.

As a story about a failing marriage and the desire to save it, they admit some scenes will resonate with viewers no matter what their faith (or lack of), but Entertainment Weekly gives it a C, because it’s too heavy-handed in its “I’m saved!” ambitions.

What’s Fulcher’s opinion?

Traditional values sell at the theaters. The quirky pro-life flick Juno drew $143 million on its way to critical acclaim and an Oscar for best original screenplay. The anti-Christian thrillers The Reaping and The Mist only pulled together a combined $50 million.

Since when is approved teen pregnancy a traditional value? My aunt had to hide a pregnancy from her own father in the 1960s when she was 16 and ultimately gave the kid up for adoption. She only found him again a few years before she died. My dad remembers girls “going away” for a year back when he was still in school. There was nothing good about girls getting pregnant while they were unmarried. They were stigmatized for fuck’s sake. There’s really nothing good about girls getting pregnant while they’re still in school now either, but movies like Juno make it all the more acceptable a choice.

Maclean’s Magazine ran a fabulous article exploring this new family value.

During the 1960s and ’70s, sex was a rite of passage equated with youthful rebellion and liberation … Today, many “teens have sex for reasons associated with pleasure, relationships and exploration. It’s done in a different context.”

The fact that “BABIES!” tops the list of news categories at suggests that pregnancy ā€” celebrity, teen, unplanned, out-of-wedlock, whatever ā€” has moved into a new realm of acceptance. “It’s no longer a scary word,” says Ottawa-based sex therapist Sue McGarvie. “It’s been normalized.” Entertainment tabloids, which have long featured style-watch lists, have turned their attention to the latest accessory in Hollywood ā€” protruding bellies. And teens, heavy consumers of such media, are getting the message that “having a baby is the new handbag,” says Nicole Fischer, 17, who lives in Calgary and just gave birth to her son Cristian five months ago.

A baby is like a fashion accessory, she says. Only you can’t throw it in the closet when you get bored of the style.

I never saw The Reaper but I did see The Mist which was a fantastic movie exploring morality and choice in the face of adversity. That the insano religious nutball got a can of vegetables thrown at her head was just a perk.

Fulcher also brings up the film fiasco that was Golden Compass and how its anti-religion theme brought it nothing but scandal and bad ratings. There was a lot of stuff wrong with that movie. When I’d first seen the preview for it, I almost cried because it looked so beautiful. Then, watching the movie I almost cried because the acting couldn’t match the quality of the CG set. They never did the book justice. As to the atheist agenda that religious leaders protested against, James Berardinelli of ReelViews wrote,

The religious controversy surrounding the movie amounts to much ado about nothing. Yes, Philip Pullman is an atheist and there are atheist themes in the book. They don’t make it to the movie, which ignores religion altogether and makes the story about the exercise of free will against tyranny. His Dark Materials is no more a bible for atheists than The Chronicles of Narnia is a Christian tract. Both stories were influenced by the philosophies of their respective authors but each can stand on its own without looking too deeply into the subtext.

Fulchur also brings up Tyler Perry’s successes off Hollywood’s lots with his independent Jesus friendly films. From the Time article:

That Perry’s stuff deals with abrasions between working-class and middle-class blacks, between the restless young careerists and their sarcastic seniors, would seem to reduce his potential viewership even further. Devout African Americans over 30 are a hard demographic to shoot for. In 2005, Perry said, a Hollywood Pooh-Bah told him that “black folk who go to church don’t go to movies.” Yet from that group he’s carved out a strong niche fan base, without much racial crossover. The audience for his first release was 4% white; that percentage is growing slowly but steadily with each film.

The article also mentions that while his films employ some excellent names, he doesn’t get excellent performances out of them. Plus, they’re a pale imitation of the live musical shows with a blend of comedy and melodrama that are so successful in the eyes of his target audience.

I think Fulchur expects that Perry, and others like him, have the potential to cross over to mainstream film making. I, on the other hand, hope their “Jesus is Super!” appeal remains limited to pastors and their flocks. Movies with overtly religious themes have been done by major studios (and major stars) with great results. Passion of the Christ automatically comes to mind. As does The Ten Commandments, The Bells of St. Mary’s, The Exorcist. When done well, they do well at the box office. But the same can be said for every movie in every genre, regardless of it being a slasher flick or a heart-felt message one. Adding Christophilia to every scene will never guarantee success.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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