Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I'm not excited about the Christian blockbuster genre

As I type this, the next installment in the Christian Hollywood blockbuster genre has recently been released and is most likely showing in a theater near you.  Like all of its prior cousins it seeks to send a message to the general public in line with the Christian worldview through the medium of the movie screen.  While I applaud its producers for attempting to redeem the genre of film with production values worthy of its secular counterparts, I just can't seem to get excited about these kinds of projects.

In no particular order, here are some reasons why I think these big screen attempts to reach the culture at large (and even the culture in the church) are ultimately doomed to failure.

  1. Nearly all of these films seem to focus on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy.  Right belief will inevitably lead to right practice, but the opposite of this is not true (right practice will not lead to right belief).  In fact, this approach is much more closely related to legalism which is a charge that even secular reviewers bring against these films.  
  2. Movies are a form of entertainment and their primary objective is to entertain.  Anything else, including any message they may attempt to convey, is and only can be secondary.  As such these shows are purposely over dramatized to capture the viewer's attention complete with soundtracks to help heighten said drama.  Since nobody has such embellished dramatics or sound tracks playing along in real life they will inevitably discover that their own life is much more boring than what they witnessed on the movie screen.  Once this truth hits home the mountaintop euphoria they experienced from watching the movie goes away along with whatever motivation for change that came along with the experience.  
  3. Related to that above, unless I'm looking specifically for a piece of entertainment these films are largely a waste of time and money.  Look, if you're hungry is your first response going to be to flip on the TV and look for a cooking show or go find something to eat?  It is obvious that only one of those options is going to satisfy your hunger.  Even IF the message I need to hear is contained in these films I can guarantee that it will also be accessible in a multitude of other avenues which are not only more thorough but significantly more precise and accurate in their presentation.  No matter what the message, a two hour flick is going to contain a lot of fluff.  Two hours spent on studying a topic of weakness even if I have to solicit outside help will always be significantly more profitable.   
  4. No one likes a movie where the good guys don't eventually win which is why you rarely, if ever, find a movie where they don't end up doing just that.  This is the way it is and is what constitutes telling a good story.  While I'm not at all saying that this should change, the christian life comes with no guarantees.  We can't expect that everything will work out in the end in this life even if we do all the right things.  The christian is called to expect suffering, yet in the movies all you will likely see is ultimate triumph.
  5. As Francis Schaeffer reminds us in How Should We Then Live, every minute of television [including movie footage] has been edited (pg 240 in my copy).  The truth is not lost on the viewer that the makers of a film are crafting a specific message with a specific outcome.  Can you imagine stating something like the following to a friend or coworker:  "Go see the new movie __________ because it has a great message and story line which proves that my worldview is correct."?  This is preposterous.  An objector might state that we live in a culture that has been raised on TV and we need to use methods that will speak to them.  Fair enough, but what does the Bible say about how we are to bear witness about the truth that is within us?  I Peter 2:12 states that it is our right conduct that does this.  That's right, we're supposed to be living it out unscripted right in front of them
  6. We're already surrounded by more than enough entertainment.  Everywhere you look there are more and more ways to be entertained - so much so that you literally have to go out of your way to avoid it.  While I'm all for good, clean, family friendly choices, we're oversaturated with entertainment as it is, do we really need to generate more?
As the old adage goes - what you win them through is what you win them to.   It may be clean, have a good story line, be enjoyable and engaging, but its still entertainment and you can't escape the fact that the medium shapes the message.  If anyone does respond positively through these types of films I'm thankful for it, but the risk of false conversion seems pretty high to me.  Maybe these films provide opportunities for people to engage in real conversations with lost friends and truly get to matters of the heart, but I'm still more than a little skeptical.

As I said as I began this post, I do appreciate the attempts that have been made to redeem the genre of film.  It can be quite difficult to find good, quality, family entertainment that is clean and sends an acceptable message.  And I'm not so naive to think that God can't work through means that aren't necessarily perfect. 

But even though we live in a world with lots of frills, technology, and gadgetry, the natural condition of men's hearts remains exactly the same as they were directly after the fall and the way that men are saved and have their hearts oriented toward God also remains unchanged - by confronting them with their sin in the face of God's perfectly righteous requirement and then pointing them to the Savior who alone can forgive sins.  Such didacticism I am afraid is, at best, heavily veiled in the Christian blockbuster and we're fooling ourselves if we think that that doesn't matter.