Sunday, February 08, 2009

Fireproof - Is Christian Entertainment Getting It Right?

Dominick had mentioned that he would like to see the Christian movie which was newly released, "Fireproof". We rented it yesterday and spent a lazy Sunday afternoon watching it together. For those unfamiliar with the plot, here taken from the movie's web site is a synopsis:


At work, inside burning buildings, Capt. Caleb Holt lives by the old firefighter's adage: Never leave your partner behind. At home, in the cooling embers of his marriage, he lives by his own rules.

Growing up, Catherine Holt always dreamed of marrying a loving, brave firefighter...just like her daddy. Now, after seven years of marriage, Catherine wonders when she stopped being "good enough" for her husband.

Regular arguments over jobs, finances, housework, and outside interests have readied them both to move on to something with more sparks.

As the couple prepares to enter divorce proceedings, Caleb's father challenges his son to commit to a 40-day experiment: "The Love Dare." Wondering if it's even worth the effort, Caleb agrees-for his father's sake more than for his marriage. When Caleb discovers the book's daily challenges are tied into his parents' newfound faith, his already limited interest is further dampened.

While trying to stay true to his promise, Caleb becomes frustrated time and again. He finally asks his father, "How am I supposed to show love to somebody who constantly rejects me?"

When his father explains that this is the love Christ shows to us, Caleb makes a life-changing commitment to love God. And with God's help he begins to understand what it means to truly love his wife.

But is it too late to fireproof his marriage? His job is to rescue others. Now Caleb Holt is ready to face his toughest job ever...rescuing his wife's heart.

The male lead was played by Kirk Cameron of teen idol fame, and many of the other actors in the film were amateurs...and it shows.

The premise for the story was not bad, a failing marriage, two people who are self-absorbed and unwilling to give much to one another, living parallel yet disconnected lives...this is the stuff of real life. In fact, in the hands of better actors and better writers to tweak it all, it might have ended up being an absorbing character study rather than coming off as merely a vehicle to A) Send a salvation message and B) Sell related merchandise like any Disney animated film (the Love Dare book which no doubt will sell a million copies) and C) Provide certifiable "Christian Entertainment" to the masses.

The acting was not horrible, there was no flubbing of lines or huge missteps, it was just bland and very stilted. At moments, even from Kirk Cameron it was over acted. The entire film was uneven...some scenes felt like the first episode of a long running TV series when you can tell the cast has not yet gelled and then a scene would come along that had the feel of pretty decent acting. Overall, however, it came across as exactly what it was, a low budget film with inexperienced actors who are not half bad, but also wouldn't be receiving a "call back" for any Hollywood audition.

The story line had potential, and I kept hoping it would eventually find its groove, but it never quite did. And that is sad, as that aforementioned potential really was there. While I found the early scenes which set up the drama of the damage they have both done to their marriage with apathy and inattention to be kind of "canned" but necessary, the real potential came when Kirk's character was making real effort to reach out to his wife and was rebuffed, hearts were already hardened for both of them. If that had been explored and better presented, there would have been a much more engaging story. It was shown, but the emotions were not explored to the extend they could have been, the characters were flat and not fleshed out as much as they could have been, or perhaps the acting was so stiff that it didn't allow the script to work as well as it could have. I also think this is such a common occurrence in marriages that it could easily strike a chord with many who watch it, and would like for the message of forgiveness, of learning to soften your heart when it has been reinforced and has bars across it, to be heard and better explored on a deeper and more intimate level. Although the breakdown of a marriage is incredibly painful, that pain was not palpably felt with the exception (for me at least) of the one climactic scene where Kirk sincerely expresses his sorrow to his wife for his past actions. However, for me that was the only scene in the entire movie that had an authentic feel to it. The rest were either over acted or under explored.

There were good things about the film, one being that the theme of pornography and it's potential damage to a relationship was presented, but in such a subtle way that young kids such as ours had no idea what was being alluded to and older kids who would understand what was being hinted at would see nothing that was inappropriate. Nice for a change to not worry if your child is sitting on the couch next to you. I also enjoyed watching something for a change that was not a cop drama, a detective show, or a medical show. It is as if Hollywood has no idea how to tell any other kind of story these days, and seeing a drama about ordinary life and it's struggles was kind of nice.

The cinematography was decent, not top notch but I give it a score of a tad better than your average Lifetime movie, there was some pretty good camera action going on which surprised me considering much of the film had more of a low budget feel to it.

After watching this film though, I came away wondering why the Christian faithful have not been able to produce entertainment products of higher quality. Or maybe it is just me, I am not sure. It seems to me though that there ought to be enough talent and enough financial backing to produce better films, better books...but then where is the incentive to do so when the Christian community will gobble up anything at all that is halfway decent? We are all so desperate for stories to be told that more accurately reflect our faith and morals that we settle for less than well produced media. And I don't think it is just Christians who are sick of the garbage on TV and the radio, in books and magazines. Even those who do not want overtly religious media are looking for something with some substance, which seems so lacking in anything today.

A few years ago the "Left Behind" series of books and subsequent movies (also starring Kirk Cameron, the Poster Boy for Christian films today I guess) was a phenomenal success...people were clamoring for the books as each was released, rivaling the mania of Harry Potter. While the premise of the End Times makes for some pretty interesting fodder, did anyone who read these books really think they were well written? The same subject matter was tackled by Stephen King from a non-religious perspective and it was absorbing writing...maybe not everyone's cup of tea but no one could claim it was not well written. For me, the Left Behind series felt like reading something no deeper than you might find in a 5th grade text book, and in fact when I heard they had written a series for young people based on the adult series I wondered to myself how much different it really could have been, how they could have "dumbed it down" any further. With such an incredible topic to explore, it makes for great possibilities for some really creative storytelling, so where are the really amazing writers to tell that story and so many others?

I also recently read "The Shack" on the recommendation of a variety of people. The Shack is the latest hit book in Christiandom, and many who have read it have been totally bowled over by it, saying it has been life changing for them. I thoroughly expected to love it, especially when an old book buddy of mine said I HAD to read it. This is one of the reasons I am wondering if the problem is not just me, I was not bowled over by it and instead found myself skipping a page here or there. However with the Shack, I have not yet been able to pinpoint what it was that didn't work for me. I found the concept of God coming to us in a very unexpected form to be quite intriguing, and there WERE points in the book that were fairly interesting to me, but I didn't cull out nay Great Truths that felt new to me, and maybe therein lies the problem. It wasn't poorly written and in fact I found some of the imagery quite good. It just didn't speak to me the way it has so many others, and frankly I wished it had.

So what is it? Is it the lower expectations of the Faithful because they are just so happy to have anything at all that is appropriate and has a moral standard that is less than repugnant? Or is that there really isn't a large talent pool in Christian circles to produce media that is more compelling, to tell us stories that are relatable for us and yet of high quality. And please tell me why we seem to have a need to whack everyone over the head with salvation messages or bible study-type material? Haven't we as a community learned anything from the secular Hollywood hits that are more subtle? Bold proclamations are not the only way to tell God's story of redemption and hope, being in your face hasn't worked all that well...why not try a different path? Can't God's truths be woven into a plot line expertly like a master weaver creating a tapestry? I get the idea of "entertainment with a message", but just wish that the powers that be would see that the message itself doesn't have to be wielded like a sledge hammer to be effective.

Things we have watched that have presented faith in a more subtle and yet more realistic way have been the TV series' "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Waltons", both of which had God and faith woven expertly in and out of the various story lines and felt very "real" yet didn't come across as some sort of religious tract handed out in front of a grocery store or slipped under my windshield wiper with all the subtlety of a Strip Joint flier. I have been amazed over the past 3 years how many conversations we have had pertaining to faith that have been brought up due to an episode they have viewed of one of these two shows, how many values based discussions have arisen after a particular episode has been seen. I guess that is what I year for, entertainment that feels real and honest, which I don't have to hide from my children and is about something other than oversexualized MD's and cops chasing bad guys.

While I know millions of people have loved many of the books/movies mentioned in this post, I have not been that impressed. I have even probably unintentionally offended some people with my remarks, and if so I do apologize. I guess I am just asking the question: If Hollywood can get it right once in awhile, why can't the Christian media moguls?? There certainly is a proven audience for good material, why not give it to us? If we will pay for the lower quality products presented to us now, can you imagine the money to be made on a truly high quality Christian based media product?

Give us what no one else is offering, but don't make us "settle" for second best.


Thad and Ann said...

I agree with you. It was..Ok, good story but yeah, I could have been WAY better. For me it seemed at time the actors were just reading their lines.

Dee said...

I am so in agreement with you here, Cindy. There needs to be better quality Christian entertainment. I was hoping things would change after Mel Gibson did the Passion of the Christ, but apparently not.

If I could ever find the time I would write something!

tabolskys said...

Hi Cindy,

I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on that. I can give you a list of my favorite Christian authors, though :) Check to see if your local library carries any of their work... Karen Kingsbury, Beverly Lewis, and Francine Rivers. Also, we enjoyed the "Love Comes Softly" movies based on Janette Oke's books. The movies were made by Michael Landon Jr.. Aside from some "perilous" scenes, they are very family friendly. They are on tv occasionally (Hallmark?). We found them in our church's library.

melissa :)

Anonymous said...

As your token agnostic, here are my book suggestions - they aren't the best books I have ever read, but they are good enough to keep my attention, despite being "Christian" books...
The Begotten (The Gifted Series, Book 1) by Lisa Tawn Bergren - series set in 14th century Italy - a little bit of Magnificent Seven meets DaVinci Code...

The Bone Box: A Novel by Bob Hostetler this one was interesting...I would not say great book, but a good one...

Good luck with your search for quality entertainment! KR

Alethea said...

A couple of books you may enjoy that present a new view of life without any major RELIGIOUS message are The Ultimate Gift and The Ultimate Life, by Jim Stovall. In reading them to my students for morning devotions, I realized they portray some good values--most of all that a life lived for oneself is without reward or worth. Even my 12-14-year-olds beg me to keep reading! But read them in order; you have to have the first one to understand the second one!

Ohiomom2121 said...

I found it exciting that a movie with such an "out there" premise (biblical self-sacrifice in marriage) achieved any cinematic success. Traditionally, Christian themes are so panned by movie audiences that major studios will not take them on. That is why there are such low budgets for the films, not that Christians are easy prey for sloppy film work. It is just that hard Christian truths are not routinely popular. The fact that this low-budget film made as much money as it did means that it struck something of a universal chord, and really I have never seen a secular show present such a view of marriage.
I agree with your criticisms of all these books/movies, but I find the surprising popularity of them to possibly portend a major religious revival in our country. As a divorce attorney in a happy Christian marriage, I wish so many others could learn the truths that Fireproof taught, and even if the medium was flawed, I cheer its success. The series that included This Present Darkness by Peretti has stunning visuals (although not great writing), and if done by a major studio could be a fabulous movie. Maybe such a work has a chance to be made now that Fireproof proved there is money to be made in truly Christian, hardcore evangelical themes. I bet some marriages are saved by Fireproof, and it was awesome to watch for its content, if not its style.

Jen said...

We just watched Fireproof for the first time last night and I honestly really enjoyed it. I had already read your 'review', so perhaps my expectations were lower...but I thought that the message of the film really hit home, overshadowing the shortcomings. There was no denying that this film couldn't compete with Hollywood in most areas due to the DRASTIC difference in budget, but I wouldn't expect the Sherwood church to spend the same amount of money making a film that a Hollywood production company does. Making movies is just one avenue of their ministry. It also didn't bother me to see a BOLD gospel message throughout the film because, again, it was produced by a church as part of their outreach ministry. I agree, it would be AWESOME to see the mainstream media produce some good wholesome movies...hopefully they'll start to notice the success of these Sherwood Church movies and take a hint! :) I guess I look at it this way...I am VERY GRATEFUL that a group of people volunteered their time and energy to make this film! While I'm sure they hoped to entertain us, I think the bigger goal was to pass on a message of hope...which I think they accompished! It's always a JOY to read your posts Cyndi; I may not always agree with you 100%, but you always give me LOTS to think about!! Thanks for letting have a peak into your world!! :)