Monday, October 23, 2006

Worthy of Our Hearts, Minds, and Money


King Xerxes (Luke Goss) crowning his beloved Esther (Tiffany Dupont) as queen.


If you’ve seen one poor-quality Christian movie, then you’ve seen a couple dozen. And if you’ve seen one immoral Hollywood production, then you’ve seen a couple hundred.

It places the Christian in a predicament. Secular Hollywood has violated—in a bold manner—every reasonable and decent barrier that Christians, conservatives, moralists, and traditionalists alike have put up. Sexual promiscuity has become commonplace—and graphic, too—inside the theater. When Christian constituents finally conceded that—to get some “quality” entertainment—premarital sex and unmarried cohabitants had to be overlooked, Hollywood decided to enter the formerly off-limits realm of homosexuality. Actors and producers have taken to the Big Screen to promote everything from socialism to treason. Mindless violence ensues quite incessantly, and there are enough “gray areas” in many plots and storylines—about drugs, crime, sex, relationships, respect, honor, and all other things of right and wrong—to make a self-conscious middle-aged person with graying hair have a nervous breakdown. Foul language has contaminated PG-13 and even PG movies. If you didn’t know, PG-13 movies are “permitted” one F-word. Now, I never like to hear the F-word, but I certainly didn’t need or want to hear it as a 13-year-old, and I don’t want any 13-year-olds to hear it now. And don’t even think about going to a Rated R or NC-17 movie, unless you’re planning on washing your ears out with soap immediately afterwards.
The vast contingent of the Hollywood community is adamantly anti-Christian--in word and/or deed--and most Hollywood-ians think--for some strange reason--that the world cares what they think on issues of politics and religion. Rosie O’Donnell, I haven’t cared what you think since--well, come to think of it, I’ve never cared.
But, actually, Christians should care. When some actor, director, or producer is vehemently and openly anti-Christ; or when someone—like scientologist Tom Cruise—is dedicated to the retreat of God’s Kingdom through the means of direct attack or supporting some other belief system, should Christians support them with massive amounts of money? It seems like building up the enemy’s arsenal, supplying their M.R.E.’s, and shooting ourselves in the feet all at the same time.

On the other hand, Christian entertainment has become the punch-line to many a joke. Whether bad acting, bad casting, bad or overtly cliché and predictable plot, bad dialogue, bad filming, bad special effects, or blasé music, something seems to demolish almost every attempt at some truly Christian, truly wholesome entertainment. The culprits usually, at the base, are miniscule budgets and amateurs at the helms. Then, of course, there are the other issues: doctrinal disasters and filming faux-paus, as I call them. These especially show themselves in biblical productions by not-so-biblical people, if you will, but they can reveal themselves almost anywhere.. A few examples of the former case that I can think of are the network works of Noah’s Ark and The Ten Commandments. The latter: the recent End of the Spear, which lacks a strong Gospel message and presence and cast a homosexual activist as the lead role.
Then, of course, there are those that just seem kind of dull.

So what are Christians supposed to do? Should we curse the entire entertainment industry? Well, if I’m not mistaken, that’s been tried before, and the cursers generally become the cursed, missing out on the blessings of entertainment and giving Satan free reign to party in an entire industry. But, on one hand, a Christian does not/should not want to compromise his/her faith and risk giving Satan a “foothold/stronghold/opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27); but, on the other hand, even Christians—like me—will admit that watching some Christian films can be downright torturous and even embarrassing. So, again, what to do?

Well, fortunately, (praise be to God!) the oft accurate stereotype of evangelical pictures is beginning to be shattered. A good example of this is the (NOW IN THEATERS!!!) epic One Night with the King, the story of Esther, based on the novel Hadasseh by Tommy Tenney, which is based off the original book—Esther—from the Bible.
The biggest thing this movie has going against it is lack of publicity. If this film benefited from as much advertising as competing works like The Departed and Marie Antoinette, it would've entered the box-office charts a lot higher than ninth (It has sinced dropped to fourteenth, pulling only $2+ million dollars this past weekend compared to $4+ million when it opened). Plus the fact that it has gotten a pretty majoritatively negative response from critics. But what I say is this: at what point, exactly, do I give credibility to reporters for secular papers from places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles to comment on a moral, conservative, Christian film which possesses a sense of decency? For the Bible tells us that unbelievers love the darkness and hate the light(John 3:19)[note: critics seem to love movies that are "edgy," a.k.a. "grotesque and weird on a new level," even if the movies don't have the greatest of plots, acting, or production values], and that we will be "maligned" for our beliefs (Matthew 10:25). Now, of course, these critics and reporters probably would never admit to you that they actually despise God, Christians, and “the light,” but that’s also expected by the reader of the Bible: Satan himself--and by the way, I'm not calling these people Satan-- who is the “father of lies,” (John 8:44) “prowls” (1 Peter 5:8) around sneakily and poses as an “angel of light.” (2 Corninthians 11:14)
However, I can't be too hard on these guys, because One Night with the King has suffered criticism even from some Christian outlets, such as World Magazine and Christianity Today. And, besides, appraisals of movies are generally opinion based anyway, whether one is a professional critic or layman.
But, still, I know that this battle going on is much bigger than “us against Ted Turner” or something similar, but rather “against the principalities, the powers of the air, etc…” (Ephesians 6:12) However, since there have been many a poor-quality Christian production, that couldn’t be my sole reason. The main reason I’m so hard on these guys is because there is NO REASON THIS MOVIE SHOULD GET A BAD REVIEW. Sure, there may be a line here or there that smells of cheesiness, and a film trick once or twice that might be over the top or appear more fun to create than to watch, but there is nothing in this film that should get it as trashed as it has been. Call me biased, and I am and am glad to be so, but that’s not clouding my judgment. This is a quality movie of epic proportions. And the fact is, this is a battle going on: for the entertainment industry--which is another witnessing outlet.

Despite little publicity and bad publicity, One Night with the King raked in a surprising $4 million over its first weekend. Good news. Is there any bad news? Well, yes: the movie’s reported cost was $20 million!!! What does that mean? It means that it is time for word-of-mouth to take over. That’s what I’m doing here. I've seen the movie twice already, and it probably won't be in theaters much longer, so I strongly encourage you to see it within the next week or week and a half.
You see, the bottom line is this: to make money you have to spend money. Gener8xion Entertainment, Inc., has done that to the tune of $20 mil. But to spend money you have to have money. And for Christian efforts to have money, they usually have to be given money. Well, bless the souls of those who straight-out donated money to the cause or volunteered and physically helped, but the vast percentage of us can support it simply by seeing it and then talking to others about it.

Here is a brief review of the movie's various elements:

Biblical Accuracy:

I have been telling people One Night with the King takes artistic and interpretive liberties. In other words, for the sake of making a movie, they had to "stretch"--so to speak--some passages in the Bible. And for the sake of making everything make sense, they had to take some interpretive liberties. For instance, why did the head eunuch like Esther more than the others? Why did the king like Esther above all? Why were there those who were conspiring to kill the king (Was there someone--like a prince--behind it all?)? How did Mordecai find out about the plot? Why did Esther temporarily lose favor with the king? Why was Esther an orphan? Why did Haman hate the Jews? Why would the king be enticed into Haman's idea because of the Jews' money? Etc. What would make it easy to see Esther’s ethnicity—a necklace that reflects the Star of David. What would make it easy to note Haman’s beef with the Jews—a swastika-like medallion. The Bible concerns itself more with stating facts than telling a flowery story. I think this is probably for the best. If Noah’s Ark or the parting of the Red Sea sounded more like a story and less like historical record than it does, God’s Word would come under even more critical attack. And after all, the Bible is much more concerned with salvation than in telling good stories--especially since these "stories" are actual history. But, to make a movie interesting, enjoyable, and understandable, it is sometimes needed to expound upon the Bible. I mean, consider the amount of dialogue in any movie in comparison to the amount of dialogue in the book of Esther.
There are a few more serious transgressions of the movie: Esther only invites the king and Haman to one banquet in the movie, rather than two, like in the Bible; Esther has an interesting and improbable—to say the least—relationship with a Jewish boy who eventually is forced into being a eunuch (I say this, considering the time period and the Jewish people and traditions); and Haman doesn’t genuinely beg Esther for mercy in the movie, as the Bible gives the impression. There are also some other minor discrepancies I might’ve been able to mention, including the facts that Mordecai and Esther mention God in the movie, whereas the Bible does not--explicitly anyway; but the movie does not lose any core value and does not distract from the enjoyment of the film with any aforementioned “doctrinal disasters.”

Music:

So it’s not Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia when it comes to the score, but what’s the point of mentioning that? I say that no matter what movie I review the music of!!! The fact is, the score is epic and intense, and it serves its purpose well. I especially noted the love song that is in a different language.

Acting/Casting:

This is where One Night with the King shines in some areas and falls under attack in others, but, in my opinion, this is where it really separates itself from most other evangelical fare—both in name and in performance. Peter O’Toole plays a short-but-sweet role as the prophet Samuel. John Rhys-Davies couldn’t have played a better part than he did as the lovable, teddy-bearish Mordecai. Omar Sharif belts out at least a couple powerful and persuasive lines as a general. John Noble plays an eerie (and downright slimy) prince just as well as he played Denithor, Steward of Gondor, in the Lord of the Rings movies. Tommy Lister, like Rhys-Davies, comes across as very likeable in a great performance as the head eunuch. And Luke Goss, though certainly one of the worst of the cast, plays his part respectably and well-enough as the oft vexed and temperamental King of Persia.
Did I leave anyone out? ;) Oh, yes, of course, Tiffany Dupont. Beautiful and elegant, wistful and willful: Tiffany embodies everything about Esther that is traditionally imagined. A few too many giggles and childish lines might be considered to have pervaded and contaminated the performance, but I don't think so. Not to mention that her appearance’s “style” is at least believable as perhaps Jewish, unlike the last Esther movie, where Esther was played by an English woman with a strong British accent.


Special Effects/Sets/Wardrobe/Etc.:

Taking a page from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, the Crouch's weren’t afraid to make a quality movie. Although to the discerning eye—the kind that’s seen all the special features for Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings—some flyover footage might appear too computer-generated, it really is on par or above much Hollywood fare. Everything about the beautiful wardrobes and sets takes you back to Persia and to the truly epical nature of the situation.

Filming:

I guess you could say that there’s not too much new here, but Christians know that “there is nothing new under the sun,” or as I paraphrase: there’s nothing truly new under the sun. The filming is by no means dull, though, so why does it have to be new? A couple cheap artistic tricks find their way into the shooting, but whether this is detrimental or not really is a matter of taste and/or sensitivity.

Plot:

Does it get any better? The story of Esther is as inspiring and bravery-inducing as any story out there. It particularly makes you want to live for God and bring about His will.

As far as specific dialogue goes, some say that it's "pompous," "corny," "cheesy," etc., but that really has to be defined as specific lines--one here and maybe one there--NOT as a persistent parasite of the whole picture.

Summary:

There are some whose philosophies of movie-going are this: "If the critics don't like it, it's gotta be good." And vice-versa. My advice on this movie would be to see it--hands down. The good most definitely out-weighs the bad.


Favorite Parts:
1.) What Mordecai says when Haman asks why he refuses to bow.
2.) When Esther runs through the rain and bursts through the doors into the king’s court.
3.) When Esther is relayed the message of Mordecai, and replies, “If I perish, I perish.”


~Kingdom Advancer

What does it say about Christians if we are willing to pay for, watch, and enjoy works that have parts which compromise, violate, and war against our faith, but we can't support films putting forth efforts to advance God's Kingdom because certain parts go against our taste or aren't quite up to our highest of standards of quality?

4 comments:

Shira said...

Nice blog on the movie "One Night with the King"...I saw this movie and thought it was excellent, and I have highly recommended it to all my friends and family. I especially appreciate your comments on some of the criticisms, and discrepancies noted within this movie. I wholeheartedly agree, that these do not detract from the quality of the movie and its ability to capture the essence and heart of the story of Hadassah. This is truly an inspirational film; beautifully done.

Austin said...

Good point about "interpretive liberties" being necessary. No movie about Moses to date has ever been completely biblically accurate. In fact, I've often wondered if people who make movies about Exodus even bother to read Exodus! It's pretty funny.

Kingdom Advancer said...

Thanks for the nice comments, Shira and Austin.

RE: Shira
Keep spreading the word!

RE: Austin
For clarification, are you referring to movies that are biblically inaccurate, or biblically "extra-curricular," so to speak? Because, like I said, there have been some movies that make me sick. It's wrong for a movie to purposefully CHANGE what the Bible says--although, "artistic" liberties come into play on minor issues. But if a movie expounds, or tries to interpret the Bible ("interpretive" liberties)--what I would call "storifying" it--that is sometimes, or often, necessary.

Austin said...

I wasn't talking about movies where they intentionally try to change what the Bible says. I was talking about storifying it - which sometimes means changing some things, but it doesn't damage the story, really.