Tuesday, July 27, 2010


In the movie biz, summer means three things: big explosions, big-name actors, and big receipts. If it’s not a big-budget shoot-em-up, it’s the innovative star-studded thriller. If it’s not pushing the limits of special effects, it’s pushing computer animation. Whichever, it is the summer blockbuster.

Which is this year’s big blockbuster? Salt failed to dethrone Inception over the weekend and I hear Inception is as good, if not better, than it looks. Earlier this summer Iron Man 2 left many underwhelmed, while Toy Story 3 made everyone cry. The Last Airbender may not be this year’s Avatar (bonus points if you caught the pun), but there’s nothing that looks like it will break box-office records like James Cameron’s 3-D spectacle.

“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

Why do we shell out $30+ (for two) to see the latest hits when we can wait a month and watch it at the dollar theater?

What is it that drives the blockbuster? It needs a compelling theme (Avatar knocked this one out of the park), a big name (I couldn’t tell you the main actor in Avatar, but everyone knows James Cameron), and memorable special effects (again, Avatar blew this away). But to be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of that movie. Maybe I’m the only one given all its hype. I found it entertaining and enjoyable and I have to commend the special effects. But the mythology introduced (which many found to be so alluring) was derivative and unoriginal and the acting was flat (mostly because the Navi were perilously close to the “Uncanny Valley”). It was a sight to behold on the big screen, but was it worth waiting in line for hours the day it was released on DVD? (Maybe more people have a 52” plasma screen than I thought)

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:2)

What is the best movie you’ve ever seen? What is your favorite?

The Gospel of Jesus is called “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, but if it were a summer movie release, would it make any money? The Passion of the Christ exceeded box-office expectations (no I won’t talk about Mel Gibson’s recent issues) but had the advantage of being released to coincide with Easter. I’m not sure that movie would have seen the same numbers if released during the summer. Yet the Gospel encompasses every crucial ingredient to be a blockbuster. What could be more compelling than the Son of God, Prince of Peace, Savior of the world? God is a pretty big name, I sure hope his son can live up to the hype and doesn’t fall prey to the temptations that befall many Hollywood protégés. And don’t get me started on special effects- raising people from the dead, driving out demons, re-growing some dude’s ear! The story is filled with action, betrayal, love, and passion. What is there not to like?

But there’s plenty not to like about the Gospel. It’s challenging. It’s exclusionary. It’s (gasp) religious! Most of all, its message is positive and hopeful, contradictory to the cynicism that is so pervasive in today’s entertainment. So why do we watch?

"On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’…

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:60-61,66)

Have you ever walked out on a movie? Why?

Driving to work today, my carpool buddy was telling me about Inception. He liked the special effects and the action, but didn’t like the message it delivered. This time last year, many derided Avatar because of its not-so-subtle politics. Personally, I don’t give movies (or more accurately, movie makers) that much credit. I don’t think it is some political conspiracy and oftentimes I don’t think there’s intention behind the message beyond what either reflects current events (you write what you know) or what is expected to strike a chord with the audience (and we relate to what we recognize). It could be argued that art is meant to be interpreted, so the messages are intentional, though I don’t consider movies to be art. But my friend countered that whoever first conceived the story was inspired by something and that something shaped the final product. There, he has a good point. I write what is on my heart. If I didn’t feel passionately about it, I wouldn’t write it. I expect the same to be true of novelists, screenwriters, poets and musicians. At the same time, the audience is also influenced by their pre-existing values and expectations. We will read into something what we choose to, independent of the artist’s inspiration.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

What inspires you? What influences your worldview?

Evangelicals have coined the term “Biblical worldview” to define everything from media to politics. I agree with the principle- our values, convictions, and faith should influence how we view the world. In fact, that is the underlying theme of this blog- seeing everything that passes through the public square through our Christian lifestyle. I believe if you want to find an inspirational message in something you can in anything. I fully expect there to be several sermons preached based on the themes in Inception, just as there were for the Matrix, or Lost, or Gladiator. That doesn’t make it a Christian film, nor does one (of probably many) Christian’s negative opinion of its themes make it inherently nihilistic or anarchic. Our interpretation is based on our preconceived attitudes.

At the same time, we are inspired to be creative. After all, creation is an attribute of God and we are created in His image. That creativity may manifest itself in different forms- music, writing, career, hobbies, etc. Regardless of the medium, the outlet is still inspired. Just as we can interpret media based on our values (our worldview) we can influence the world with our values (the world viewing). It goes both ways. We cannot simply sit on the sidelines pointing our fingers at what we disagree with if we are not also engaging the very things we desire the world to overcome. Back to our summer blockbuster analogy, you cannot have the blockbuster if we’re not buying the tickets.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Who is your audience? What story is your life telling?

Last weekend alone, over $150 million was spent on the top-10 movies. Assuming $10 per ticket, that means 15 million people went to the movies this weekend. I don’t know if that’s more or less than the number who showed up to church on Sunday morning. I’m not advocating turning our worship into a spectacle. But I do believe we need to turn our lives into something worth viewing. We need to capture the audience with a big-name star (you), a compelling theme (admit it, your life has plenty of drama, doesn't it?), and awesome special effects (a life transformed by the Gospel of Christ).

Today continues this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.


Glynn said...

Best movie I've ever seen -- probably Babette's Feast. Favorite movie -- Chariots of Fire. Not surprisingly, both have strong themes about faith and grace.

Fatha Frank said...

Hmm, never heard of Babbette's Feast, I'll have to check that out. Chariots of Fire is one of my favs. Not only for the themes, bur I was also once upon a time a sprinter. Thanks for the comment, Glynn.