Should There Be a Christian Movie Industry?
Christian film critics say The Matrix Reloaded shoots itself in the foot
As Film Forum was being wrapped up this week, Christian film critics were just beginning to post their reviews of this weekend's surefire box office champion, The Matrix Reloaded. For moviegoers who want to hear early reports about Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and Agent Smith, the word is this: Don't set your expectations very high.
Reloaded is big on dazzling visual spectacle; it sets new standards for CGI-enhanced kung fu, digital animation, and car chases. But the plot meanders, stringing together redundant, even tedious action scenes that are short on new ideas. The intriguing philosophical questions that made the first film so compelling and relevant are reduced here to a marathon of dull and dizzying monologues. In the areas of character development and storytelling, the movie is running on fumes. Here are links to reviews by Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films), Michael Elliott (Movie Parables), and David DiCerto (Catholic News Service). My own review is at Looking Closer.
Filmmakers, critics, and Film Forum readers debate the definition, purpose, pros and cons of 'Christian movies"
Ask typical moviegoers to describe a "Christian movie" and you will hear a wide variety of adjectives. Some think Christian movies are safe, clean, a preferred alternative to popular cinema, and "movies with a message." Others will say they're poorly made, propagandistic, and preachy.
The answers will vary again if you ask them which titles spring to mind. Christian moviegoers may mention films shown only in churches, those that depict the lives of missionaries or Bible characters, or the widely used missions-oriented film Jesus. Others will settle on the recent resurgence of apocalypse-oriented titles that made it to multiplexes, like Left Behind and The Omega Code. Some will recall recent family films— The Prince of Egypt, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, or A Walk to Remember.
But for some, the term deserves a broader definition. They could argue for the inclusion of films that explore questions about God, ethics, or spirituality, like Dead Man Walking, The Apostle, Signs, or Chariots of Fire. Some will go so far as to include fantasies that lend themselves to allegory—The Lord of the Rings, E.T., The Matrix. Titles that illustrate the wages of sin or a character's redemption include Eyes Wide Shut, Levity, or About Schmidt. (Recently, several Christian writers, including columnist Terry Mattingly, pointed out Christian insights woven throughout the Disney family film Holes.)
The differences between films that explictly evangelize, films that subtly explore spiritual questions, and films that quietly prod us toward a Christian worldview are large enough to cause a good deal of debate. There are enthusiastic supporters for all kinds. Many argue Christians should avoid mainstream films entirely, and focus on making and spreading Christian films. But other believers recommend paying attention to mainstream art and entertainment, for the purposes of highlighting often-overlooked truths evident in the storytelling. Further, they argue we should encounter, listen to, understand, and interact with popular culture. These tend to criticize the overt religiosity and preachy nature of the films some Christians call "alternatives." And they recommend that Christian filmmakers do their work in the mainstream, alongside others in the industry, like Ralph Winter, a Christian who co-produced the recent blockbuster X2: X-Men United, or actor Jim Caviezel, a devout Catholic who starred in Frequency and The Count of Monte Cristo.