It was an odd conversation. A Senior High student in my church youth group informed me with unshakable confidence what he was going to do after he graduated:
"I want to make movies because I really like watching them."
I wasn't too sure about this -- you see, he was one of those students who even as a Senior found great delight in watching the "Veggie Tales Silly Songs". Every so often he would interrupt youth group by randomly breaking out in a round of "Oh where is my hairbrush?" thinking it was the funniest thing ever. Most of the other students moaned.
I asked him two follow-up questions: "First of all, who doesn't like movies? This is like a person saying I am going to make my own brand of chocolate because I like candy...doesn't most everyone like candy? Secondly, are you any good at it?"
He never thought about being good at it as an important reason for going into it; for him, liking it was enough. He was sure his passion for watching shows would carry him into great success and riches. He gave further proof of his qualifications, "Hey, I even helped with our church plays, and I really liked doing that too!"
I often wonder,"Is this how most Christian movie makers started?" And if it is, it sure explains a lot!
Have you ever really noticed that Christian movies....well...how do I say it...STINK? I know I will get a lot of blow-back from those in the church who think Christian movies are wonderful simply because their morals are good, and they pay lip service to Jesus. But shouldn't their art, story line, acting quality, camera work, editing, and drama be good too?
Secretly, I have avoided watching Christian movies in theaters, and it takes a lot for me to watch them at home too -- because I just don't like most of them. They are so predictable. Even the good ones are considerably bad.
The problem is you can't say how you really feel to most Christians in the church because there is a "Sentimental Thought Police" that demands for you to embrace anything and everything that markets itself as Jesus friendly.
Take for instance the most recent popular Christian movie, "God's Not Dead." Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 17 out of 100. That's really bad. Most Christians will say that Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 17 because they have a worldly bias. No, they gave it a 17 because the Rotten Tomatoes critics are evaluating it honestly. It is poorly written, acted, and the story line is obvious. Personally, I loathe how the movie leads every thread of the plot to find it's climax at a Christian Rock Concert, as if that is the next best thing to heaven on earth. A two hour concert does not heal all wounds, nor does it authenticate genuine faith. How silly?
I agree with what one "Variety" critic wrote, "The Almighty deserves better advocacy than he gets in this typically ham-fisted Christian campus melodrama." God does deserve better, I am just not sure we can do better?
Malcom Muddridge, a brilliant British television producer, who is also a great thinking Christian, wrote something years ago that has always caused me to question the way we as Christians approach the media:
"Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good, and no desert so dreary and monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way around. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive, and full of charm...the media, as it seems to me, in their offerings of a depiction of love is almost invariably eros, rather than agape, that provides all the excitement; success and celebrity rather than a broken and contrite heart that are made to seem desirable; and Jesus Christ Superstar rather than Jesus Christ on the cross who gets a folk hero’s billing."
How do you depict agape love on the large screen to be seen as attractive? If Christians can figure this out they might have a chance of gaining an interested audience. But as it now stands, most Christian movies are simply poor imitations.
Yesterday I came across an article that explained exactly how I feel about the low quality of Christian films entitled, "Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?" (http://www.vox.com/2015/2/15/8038283/christian-movies-bad-old-fashioned-fifty-shades) The writer brought out two tremendous points:
(1) "Where Hollywood, for the most part, strives for artistic greatness; Christians try to be good. Hollywood wants to make masterpieces; Christians want to communicate good messages." The problem with this is that no one will listen to a good message if it is wrapped in cheese!
(2) "This is the irony of the Christian film industry: movies that appeal mostly to Christians are marketed as if capable of bringing sinners to repentance." I like how Pascal said true evangelism is more than winning an argument, it is developing and enticing a taste. Look at it like this: You will never convince someone that gluten free meals are better for you if they always taste like saw-dust!
The article ended by saying: "One remedy to this (Better made Christian movies) might be an apocryphal anecdote attributed to Martin Luther. After a cobbler converted to Christianity, he asked the German theologian how he could be a good Christian cobbler. Luther responded, 'The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.'
The answer, then, might not be in striving to convey the message most full of surface-level goodness but, rather, in pushing for artistic greatness. Then, once form and content emerge in harmony, can barriers be broken down and conversation begin. Because really: no one likes a poorly made shoe."
If you think Christians movies are just fine and they are great tools to bring people to Jesus, go watch "The Imposter" with Kevin Max (D. C. Talk) or the remake of "Left Behind" with Nicolas Cage and you will begin to understand how bad of straights the Christian movie industry is currently in.