Over the weekend Jurassic World made broke the record for the biggest domestic opening of all time. This came as quite a surprise, considering the record was expected to go to The Avengers: Age of Ultron last month, breaking the record set by the first Avengers in 2012.
Jurassic Park was a phenomenon in the summer of 1993 with adults and kids alike, but I think that even Universal was unaware of quite how important the first film was to a generation of kids that grew up in the 90s. I’ve always held a belief that Jurassic Park was to those kids what Star Wars was to the generation that grew up in the 70s. Both films revolutionized visual effects and captured the imaginations of millions of people around the planet. And they both happen to hold the top spots for my favorite films of all time.
There is a moment early in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron in which the superhero team contemplates how they could possibly fight against another onslaught of interstellar monsters. Captain America quietly states, “Together.” In the moment, it seems somehow sad, maybe even pathetic, to think that the only consolation about impending death is that they’ll die alongside one another. The moment has power, but not because it is inspirational.
The inspiration comes later, after the in-fighting and paranoia. After blame is thrown around and the characters are belittled by one another. Only after the team is at its lowest, with virtually no cohesion at all, do they finally come together to fight against an army of robots. Why does this happen? Because when you’re that low, you come to realize just how weak you are and how much you need other people. It is at that moment, after exposing one another’s flaws and fears and accepting them, that the Avengers truly comes together as a team.
Traditionally, the American Christian right is closely associated with conservatism and traditional “American” values. So it’s no surprise that Burns Family Studios, a Christian film company started by two home-schooling families, chooses to set their new film around the American Revolution. The company has one film under their belt so far, the medieval epic Pendragon: Sword of His Father, which was well received at several Christian and Family Film festivals. While Pendragon was a passion project shot in back yards and starring the Burns family themselves, Beyond the Mask is a more ambitious, higher budget project, aiming to stand alongside similar Hollywood projects.
The first and biggest problem with Infernal, though sadly far from the only one, is its decision to emulate the “found footage” format when telling its story.
If you don’t know that term, it first came to prominence with The Blair Witch Project in 1999 and refers to a filming style wherein the narrative appears to play out as if it were captured by a home video camera: with shaky camera work, out of focus shots, and intentionally awkward angles. Since the release and success of “Blair Witch”, dozens of movies ranging from low-budget independents to major studio efforts have sought to imitate the format, with mixed results. The most recent mainstream success franchise to use this format has been the Paranormal Activity films.
One of my biggest criticisms of the genre known as the “Christian film” is that the films too often feel reactionary. Rather than being created from a desire to tell a good story and tell it well, many films in the “Christian” genre are responding to a specific cultural condition with a specific message and an undeniable agenda.
The latest film to fall into this category is Old Fashioned, written and directed by Rik Swartzwelder, who also stars as the lead role opposite Elizabeth Roberts. The film centers around a couple whose romance is more akin to “courtship” than dating and was specifically marketed as the Evangelical response to 50 Shades of Grey. I should be upfront about the fact that I wasn’t expecting much from it.
But the marketing campaign was probably a disservice to the film because what I saw offered me a few surprises, which not only endeared it to me as a positive entry in the “Christian film” genre, but also gave me some glimmers of hope for where that genre might be headed.
For most of my life, and likely for all of the rest of it, I have been torn between whether I will be governed by my reason or by my emotions. I’m a critical thinker and a logical problem solver with a deductive-reasoning mindset. I’m also a highly sensitive and often emotionally vulnerable man.
I just got out of seeing the movie Old Fashioned. Here are some things I noticed: It was a Monday morning and the theater was packed. The movie was getting laughs from the audience throughout. When the movie ended, people applauded it. Also, as I was leaving, an older woman sitting in my aisle with her husband asked me, “Wasn’t that a wonderful movie?” while I heard another person say, “There needs to be more movies like this.” Now, if this is your audience, if this is who you are making movies for, then good job! You guys are succeeding. Not just Old Fashioned, but all Christian films. I remember leaving God’s Not Dead and seeing people genuinely excited about it, pulling out their cell phones, I’m guessing to text people, “God’s Not Dead” as the movie instructs, and then myself receiving the text “God’s Not Dead!” for several weeks after that from random Christian friends. You have an audience. Christians are going to your movies and they are going to continue to go to your movies.
Picture with me, for a moment, a machine. It has its own circuits, electrical impulses, and energy source. But this machine’s purpose extends beyond programmable functions to re-programmable functions. In other words, this machine can learn, can reason, and can deduce. It can evolve.