I love the movies. There is something about the movies that is magical. What makes the movies so brilliant is they can entertain and yet tell us a lot of things about ourselves. They can entertain, inspire, thrill, terrify, and make us laugh and cry. I’ve seen good and bad movies in terms of both quality and content. But what makes movies do those things is we as an audience buying into the the world that the film presents to us, including the characters,the script, the plot, and the quality of the presentation. But as a Christian the movies pose an interesting and sometimes moral dilemma, and that dilemma is one of the often terrible moral content. Where do we find a middle ground? Why Christian films of course!
I admire that Christians want to create alternate programing, but where this becomes a problem is the drop in quality. How many Christian films do you hear of that are considered to be artistically and critically relevant in the non-christian film community? Not many. Is this a terrible thing? Not necessarily, but what happens is that the general public who has no interest in the things of God sees these films and they immediately have a problem taking people who follow God, and also God Himself, seriously based on the artistic quality of what they’re seeing. Now I understand that putting a “Christian” tag on a film will not draw big budgets, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice artistic and cinematic quality just because you have a Christian film. But often that is exactly what happens. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty decent Christian films out there. Facing the Giants, Fireproof and End of the Spear were better than I initially expected them to be. Structurally they do a good job as films. They may not have the best actors or the biggest budgets, but they do a good job of getting their message across, making you care about the characters, and telling an engaging story. The smaller budgets and actors work without taking the audience out of the story.
But then you have movies like Sunday School Musical (which inspired this entire post), a blatant High School Musical ripoff with a plot that is more Sister Act instead of anything related to the Disney series. It’s a stereotypical and predictable “inner city guy has to go to the predominately white and plain school, and they all put aside their differences and make beautiful music together all while learning more about each other and themselves” story. What makes it a terrible movie is not the obvious lack of budget, production values, smart writing, or even acting: It’s the “Christian” label on a film that doesn’t really say anything profound about God. He’s honestly compared to a bubble. If you don’t understand how the bubble metaphor can work for God, you’re not alone. I didn’t either. Add on to the fact that it has obvious stereotypes, an uninspired plot and an extremely unrealistic and highly implausible happy ending, and you got something that no one will take seriously. You could honestly show it on Hallmark or ABC Family and never make a point about it being a “Christian” film and no one would be able to tell the difference. It’s poorly made and poorly executed, and films like those reflect on the Christian community and ultimately on God. If we want to make a difference through film, we have to take the artistic merits of film seriously in Christian filmmaking.
I know it may sound scary to some Christian studios, but maybe we need to go to Hollywood to get things rolling. Films like Luther, The Ten Commandments, The Mission, and Ben-Hur have big name stars and production values, and you can inject Christian themes into good stories without feeling the need to beat someone over the head with a thought-provoking message. As a Christian I’ve found myself turned off to “Christian” studios because even though the message is usually really good, the bad production and artistic quality distract from the message. As good as the message can be, if the audience isn’t engaged by the story then its all for nothing. Even worse is the often sugarcoated “reality” that Christian films portray. There’s no real life conflict or problems, and if an audience cannot relate then they’re never going to enjoy the film. If I’m turned off to them, then what about the lost? We need to stop making films for Christians and to start making films for the lost.
And to do that we have to step up our game and learn to tell good stories that can captivate a movie savvy lost audience. But you don’t have to have a clean cut Hallmark kind of story to have a good message or to raise thought provoking questions. If you want a great example of a good story that can do those things, look at the author Steven James and his Patrick Bowers series. James has written books about Christianity (very good ones at that), but he’s also written crime novels about an FBI agent tracking serial killers. Since these are crime novels, you can expect some pretty violent material, but it also poses questions about the nature of good and evil, abortion, God, sin, and how God’s ways are above ours. I highly recommend his books for anyone who is a fan of crime or mystery novels. But what I’m getting at is this: we need good and serious material to reach a skeptical audience.