A few weeks ago at Christianity Today.com, Mark Moring wrote a column called Why Are Christian Movies So Bad? The article reviews a book by Scott Nehring, You Are What You See, Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens.
I haven’t read the book, but was intrigued with the question at this conservative site, because it seems to me that many Christians (at least those who drive the Christian film market) aren’t that discriminating about film quality and story depth, gravitating instead to sermonizing, sentiment, and sports metaphors, avoiding fantasy unless it’s a “safe” C.S. Lewis story (in which fantasy is okay, because it’s allegory). To be truthful, I don’t see that many films, and experience has taught me to avoid those specifically “Christian.”
In his column, Moring writes that Nehring:
“…is long on stating the problem in terms we’ve heard before: Christian movies are ‘intellectually vacant,’ ‘disconnected from reality,’ and are known for ‘substandard production values, stilted dialogue and childish plots.’ He blames it not only on the filmmakers themselves, who are guilty of mediocre art (at best), but also the Christian audience, which he says should be more discerning and more demanding — of excellence, that is.
His concluding paragraphs, entitled, ‘So what can we do?’, include a few platitudes that sound great — ‘we need great films,’ ‘we must demand quality’ — but are short on practical suggestions and application. Nehring likely offers more detail in his book (which I haven’t read), so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt; I’ll assume he gets more specific in those pages.
He’s right that Christians ‘must demand quality,’ but what’s that look like? Does it mean that we shouldn’t pay $10 to see a lame Christian film in the theater, or $18 to buy the DVD? And that we should spend our money on excellent films instead? Perhaps, but box office statistics alone don’t really tell us much about excellence, or whether films are worth our while (no matter how some folks might interpret those numbers).
To me, the main thing goes back to something that producer Ralph Winter (the X-Men and Fantastic Four movies) told me a couple of years ago: There’s simply no substitute for a great education at a first-rate film school, years of hard labor in the trenches with the best in the business (and yes, that likely means working side-by-side with pagans in Hollywood), and paying one’s dues with lots of sweat, heartache, trial-and-error, failure, and dogged, unwavering persistence. There’s simply no substitute for it.
True, God might clearly be leading you to make a movie, even a ‘Christian’ movie. But without such a background, it’s unreasonable to think you can make a great one. It’s hard work, arguably the hardest of all the arts to master. And it takes time. Prayer and God’s leading are great, but alone, they’re no substitute for mastering the craft. That takes years.”
These thoughts echo Malcolm Gladwell’s points in his book Outliers, in which he shows how people at the top of their field get there by incredibly hard work over a long time, and through providential circumstances that helped them hone their abilities. But are Christian filmmakers willing to work that hard? What does it take? Why don’t we have original, imaginative, creative, thought-provoking films that portray life in a realistic way? Oh wait, we do, but films like Bruce Almighty, The Blind Side, The Apostle, The Book of Eli, Pixar films, and the Harry Potter films (obviously) aren’t made by “Christian studios.”
I urge you to read the comments on this column before chiming in, as they cover most spectrums of opinion. Despite some real thoughtfulness, no one mentions Harry Potter. Surprise.
I bring this subject up because the reviews for Voyage of the Dawn Treader have not been positive. See here and here (h/t revgeorge), and an article on the making of the film, I saw the film trailer and it didn’t look promising to me. I was disappointed by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and didn’t see Prince Caspian.
What are your thoughts about “Christian” films? Has anyone read Nehring’s book?